Inspectors say the 520 Bridge is holding up well despite taking a beating by the windstorm over the weekend. People stuck on the bridge during its Saturday closure reported hearing creaking and groaning that had them quite worried.
A replacement bridge is still at least two years away, and after a weekend like the one Seattle just experienced, faith in the current bridge's integrity is sinking. DOT officials, however, maintain the 520 is still safe.
“The waves were gnarlier than I’d ever seen them before,” said Nick Carlson, who was crossing the bridge at the height of Saturday’s storm.
Conditions were so intense he decided to record them on his phone.
“In retrospect, it’s probably not the safest move I’ve ever made,” he joked Monday. His cell phone captured whitecaps pounding the bridge relentlessly.
The car in front of him was swallowed up by a wave that swept over the road. It was the worst weather Carlson had ever experienced on the 520.
“It was definitely a combination of the wind and the waves that made it as scary as it was,” he said.
It was so scary, DOT officials closed 520 for about 2 hours on Saturday. Some were forced to abandon their cars.
A team of bridge tenders monitor wind and waves during severe weather. If there are sustained winds of 50 miles per hour for 15 minutes, they close the bridge. The winds never got that bad on Saturday. It was mostly poor visibility that caused the closure. Gusts, however, were strong enough to actually move the 50-year-old bridge back and forth several feet while people were driving across.
“I could feel my truck moving back and forth,” said Carlson. “That’s the thing that jolted me the most was feeling my truck getting blown back and forth.”
DOT engineers remind drivers that the 520 is a “floating bridge” - essentially a big boat that is anchored to the bottom of the lake. The bridge is built with special expansion joints that allow it move with the waves, kind of like a dock.
Carlson says he’ll think twice about pulling out the video recorder next time, and keep focused on safety.
“I was wearing my seatbelt, though,” he said.