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The high-level West Seattle Bridge, officially the Jeanette Williams Memorial Bridge, is a cantilevered segmental bridge that serves as the primary connection between West Seattle and the rest of the city. It was built between 1981 and 1984 after the previous bascule bridge was deemed inoperable as a result of being struck by the freighter Antonio Chavez in 1978.

West Seattle Bridge
West Seattle Bridge from 12th Ave S Viewpoint 01 - cropped.jpg
The West Seattle Bridge from the 12th Avenue South Viewpoint on Beacon Hill.
Coordinates47°34′15″N 122°21′01″W / 47.570945°N 122.350338°W / 47.570945; -122.350338Coordinates: 47°34′15″N 122°21′01″W / 47.570945°N 122.350338°W / 47.570945; -122.350338
CrossesDuwamish Waterway
LocaleSeattle, Washington
Other name(s)Jeanette Williams Memorial Bridge
Designsegmental, cantilever
Total length2,607 ft (795 m)[1]
Clearance below140 ft (42.6 m)
OpenedJuly 14, 1984[2]

The bridge spans the east and west channels that form the mouth of the Duwamish River at Elliott Bay, crossing over Harbor Island. Its main approaches are Fauntleroy Way S.W. from the west and the Spokane Street Viaduct from the east. The viaduct continues east to Interstate 5 at Columbian Way (exit 163), forming a three-mile (5 km) arterial between West Seattle and I-5. The navigational clearance height of the high-level West Seattle Bridge is 140 feet (42.6 meters).[3]

The low-level Spokane Street Bridge of swing-span design spans the west channel of the Duwamish River immediately north of the high-level bridge. The low-level bridge carries the surface-level Spokane Street and has a navigational clearance of 45 feet (13.7 meters).



Before any permanent bridge was built along the line of Spokane Street, there had been three temporary bridges, built c. 1900, c. 1910, and c. 1918, respectively. The first one was basically a swinging gate in what had been primarily built as a water main; the second was a swing bridge that also carried a water main, and the third was a swing bridge after the water main had been rerouted elsewhere.[4]

The original bridge was a low-level bascule bridge constructed in 1924. By the 1970s, it was one of Seattle's worst bottlenecks, due to the large number of ships in Duwamish Waterway and the frequent bridge openings. City leaders began planning a higher bridge, without a drawbridge, in the 1960s.

Obtaining fundingEdit

Planning for the bridge was hampered by difficulties in receiving funding. In large part, this is because the bridge was not a designated highway. A 1968 Forward Thrust ballot measure included $16.7 million in funding for the bridge, largely to receive votes from West Seattle residents. Other funding sources included a state program for funding urban streets and money from a maintenance fund.

After a long drawn-out process, three companies eventually bid to design the bridge for $1.5 million. However, the city engineer chose a fourth company that was financially connected to the speaker of the state house. The price from this fourth company was triple the cost of the other three. This was a result of a series of bribes involving the head of the House Transportation Committee, the city engineer and others. Despite the 68 percent support in the 1968 ballot measure, the state withdrew its urban streets money due to the scandal. In 1976 and 1977, the conspirators were placed on trial and imprisoned.

After the scandal, the project was considered dead. Norbert Tiemann, a federal highway regulator, stated that there would essentially be no chance of the project receiving federal funds for completion. Tiemann also quipped, "Short of a tug knocking it down (which could trigger federal special bridge replacement funds), there is nothing else. And you certainly wouldn't want to go that route."[5]

The Antonio Chavez, the ship that hit the old bridge.

In 1978, a ship actually did strike the bridge, which left the 1924 bridge stuck open and unrepairable. Because of this, the project qualified for funds from the federal Office of Special Bridge Replacement. However, with many other damaged bridges to replace, this program alone did not have sufficient funding. While federal lawmakers were opposed to appropriating funds to a high-level bridge, Seattle City Council member Jeanette Williams, who served on the council from 1970 to 1989, lobbied Congress for the bridge and successfully secured funds with help from Senator Warren Magnuson.[6][7] The bridge was complete in 1984, and the smaller Spokane Street Bridge which parallels it was built at the same time.

Before the bridge opened, many of the neighborhoods in West Seattle had low property values because of the difficulty in getting downtown. The bridge caused an increase in property values as well as a development boom, as developers constructed new multi-family housing. This new development also led to an increase in traffic volumes throughout the neighborhood.

West Seattle FreewayEdit

Aerial view of the Spokane Street Viaduct taken 2010 (before widening) facing west. The Interstate 5 interchange is in the foreground, and the West Seattle Bridge is in the background.

The Spokane Street Viaduct section was one of Seattle's first freeways, built in 1940. Upon completion of the West Seattle Bridge in 1984, the road comprising the Spokane Street Viaduct and the West Seattle Bridge was referred to as the "West Seattle Freeway". However, in 1997, the Seattle City Council unanimously adopted a resolution to lower the speed limit and to request that the WSDOT remove the word "Freeway" from signs marking the entrances to the Spokane Street Viaduct and the West Seattle Bridge.[8][9] The West Seattle Bridge was renamed as the Jeanette Williams Memorial Bridge on July 6, 2009, in honor of councilmember Williams, who had been instrumental in securing political support for the construction of the bridge.[6][7] However, all directional signs continue to carry the name "West Seattle Bridge."

From 2008 to 2013, the Spokane Street Viaduct section between Interstate 5 and WA 99 was rebuilt and widened. The widened roadway has three lanes in each direction and shoulders. A new westbound on and off ramp was built at 1st Ave S and replaced the dangerous 4th Ave S off-ramp. A new eastbound off-ramp to 4th Ave S opened August 16, 2010.

Exit listEdit

Destinations Notes
Fauntleroy Way Southwest, 35th Avenue Southwest Ends at an at-grade intersection
Admiral Way Westbound exit and eastbound entrance
Harbor Avenue, Avalon Way Westbound exit and eastbound entrance
Delridge Way Southwest, Southwest Spokane Street - South Seattle College Westbound exit and eastbound entrance
11th Avenue Southwest - Harbor Island, Terminal 18 Westbound exit and eastbound entrance
  SR 99 north Eastbound exit and westbound entrance
1st Avenue South Eastbound exit; westbound exit and entrance
4th Avenue South Eastbound exit
Spokane Street, 6th Avenue South Westbound exit and eastbound entrance
  I-5 - Portland, Vancouver, BC
Columbian Way, 15th Avenue South Eastbound exit and westbound entrance

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "West Seattle Bridge Ceremonially Renamed the "Jeanette Williams Memorial Bridge"" (Press release). Seattle City Council. 23 October 2009. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
  2. ^ Long, Priscilla (May 29, 2007). "West Seattle Bridge is dedicated on July 14, 1984". HistoryLink. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  3. ^ "U.S. Coast Guard Bridge Guide Clearances".
  4. ^ Paul Dorpat (1984). "100 - Six Bridges to West Seattle". Seattle Now and Then. Tartu.
  5. ^ Bob Royer (June 20, 2011). "When the Ship Hit the Span". Cascadia Courier. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
  6. ^ a b "You can call it the Jeanette Williams Memorial Bridge". WestSeattleBlog, 23 October 2009.
  7. ^ a b "West Seattle Bridge renamed to honor Jeanette Williams". West Seattle Herald, 23 October 2009.
  8. ^ Brown, Charles E. (April 7, 2008). "Bumper to Bumper: Dalai Lama, Bus a miss, Name that bridge". The Seattle Times. p. B1. Retrieved May 27, 2018.
  9. ^ Seattle City Council (March 3, 1997). "City of Seattle Resolution 29541". City of Seattle Legislative Information Service. Office of the City Clerk. Retrieved May 27, 2018.

External linksEdit