The estimated repair time was initially a “few hours” for a stuck open Seattle drawbridge over the Lake Washington Ship Canal. A few hours stretched to nearly 48 hours until the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) finally reopened the University Bridge. Over 35,000 vehicles have to find another way over the waterway to northern Seattle.
The University Bridge opened in 1919, eight years after the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal began. The bridge is named after the nearby University of Washington main campus. The current issues arose on the morning of Friday, November 12th. When the bridge was stuck in the raised position, SDOT advised area residents to find alternative routes. There was a desire for the repair to happen quickly as the University of Washington Huskies football team played a home game at nearby Husky Stadium on Saturday.
SDOT later discovered that the transformer in control of the span’s braking mechanism burned out. Maintenance crews had to physically examine every inch to wire on the bridge to locate the source of the short circuit. SDOT was testing the drawbridge’s operations by Sunday morning, and the bridge was soon open to traffic again. However, it is still unclear to authorities what caused the electrical failure on the University Bridge.
The University Bridge has been plagued with issues over the past decade. When the high temperature exceeds 90 degrees, the steel leaves of the draw span are watered down to prevent the leaves from expanding and grinding against each other while opening and closing. The century-old bridge shows other signs of severe age and fatigue, from aging draw gearing to cracked concrete supports. The City of Seattle is currently spending $27 million less than the SDOT’s estimate of $34 million that the department feels should be spent on bridge maintenance.