The cost and consequences of I-912: We can’t afford inaction

We can’t afford to wait any longer. Our state’s transportation infrastructure is in need of serious upgrades and repairs. Our health and safety depends on it, our families, jobs, and our economy depend on a solid transportation infrastructure.

The Alaskan Way Viaduct and the SR 520 floating bridge in particular – two of the most expensive projects the package funds – must be replaced. They are aging structures that are already at the end of their useful life.

Washington State and the Pacific Northwest are known for being prone to earthquakes and windstorms. A severe earthquake and or windstorm, or some other disaster, could cripple or destroy either structure.

It’s happened elsewhere.

Loma Prieta, 1989

San Francisco, California

The Loma Prieta earthquake occurred on October 17, 1989 at 5:04 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

It had a moment magnitude of 7.0. The duration was 15 to 20 seconds.

The earthquake caused tremendous damage throughout the San Francisco Bay area.
Sources place the death toll between 63 to 68 people. The cost was 6 to 8 billion dollars. San Francisco had 22 structural fires during the seven hours from the time the earthquake struck until midnight.

The earthquake caused the Cypress Viaduct to collapse, resulting in 42 deaths. The Viaduct was a raised freeway which was part of the Nimitz freeway in Oakland, which is Interstate 880. The Viaduct had two traffic decks. Resonant vibration caused 50 of the 124 spans of the Viaduct to collapse. The reinforced concrete frames of those spans were mounted on weak soil.

As a result, the natural frequency of those spans coincided with the forcing frequency of the earthquake ground motion. The Viaduct structure thus amplified the ground motion. The spans suffered increasing vertical motion. Cracks formed in the support frames. Finally, the upper roadway collapsed, slamming down on the lower road.

In addition, a span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge collapsed.

Dunn Memorial Bridge

Albany, New York

The Albany area suffered something of a catastrophe in late July 2005 when the Dunn Memorial Bridge, which connects Rensselaer County to Interstate 787 and the Empire State Plaza in Albany, partially collapsed.

To the left is a picture taken by a local television station. The collapse caused huge traffic problems.

The highway has been closed, and there are no estimates on when the bridge will be reopened. The closure is expected to cause major traffic snarls in the Albany area, particularly for State employees, many of whom rely on the bridge for their commute to the Empire State Plaza, the main State government campus. There is talk of staggering work times for State employees.

The relevance to the Seattle area is obvious. The Dunn Memorial Bridge was built in 1971; the Alaska Way Viaduct (AWV) was built in the late 1950s. Dunn was inspected a couple of years ago and rated a 5 out of 7 for safety. The AWV has had widely recognized safety problems since the Nisqually earthquake of 2001. The Albany area rarely has earthquakes.

The one bright spot in this is that nobody was injured or killed in the Albany incident. If the upper section had fallen, it my well have brought down several lower sections of the spiraling structure (three such sections are visible in the photo), and ultimately fallen into the Hudson River. Alas, one section “just” shifted by several feet.

Will Seattle be so lucky when (not, if) the AWV fails? Let’s hope so, because the Viaduct is a double-decker structure, a collapse of one section could result in a chain reaction, leading to the deaths of hundreds of people. Even a partial collapse similar to that in Albany would result in traffic mayhem in Seattle. Interstate 5 would pick up the majority of the 100,000 plus vehicles that use the roadway on a daily basis, contributing to what is already one of the worse traffic problems in the nation.

The Bottom Line…

The bottom line is that Initiative 912 is a trap. It’s taking a step backward when we should be moving forward.

Forget about the cost of gasoline – consider the cost of doing nothing. The consequences for our region. We just can’t afford to wait any longer.

Earthquakes, windstorms, and other disasters are not going to patiently wait until we finish replacing these critical stuctures. A crisis could happen at any time. We must act now.

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