The design image of Alternative A, the selected design for the Magnolia Bridge replacement. Image courtesy of Seattle Dept. of Transportation
The design image of Alternative A, the selected design for the Magnolia Bridge replacement. Image courtesy of Seattle Dept. of Transportation

Then: Almost 15 years ago

On July 10, 2001, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray announced that there was disaster-relief funding for the Magnolia Bridge through the Senate Supplemental Appropriations: “These funds will set us on a course to address the serious infrastructure problems resulting from the Nisqually earthquake…. Thousands of city residents are inconvenienced daily as a result of the damaged [Alaskan Way] Viaduct and Magnolia Bridge. This assistance is a first step toward repairing both of these vital transportation links.”

According to the press release, “The earthquake…damaged 27 support braces of the Magnolia Bridge, which is the primary arterial connection from the Magnolia neighborhood to the rest of Seattle. The $9 million secured by Murray will begin the process of replacing the 72-year-old bridge and will support efforts to help the City of Seattle begin engineering and environmental impact studies to avoid a catastrophic collapse during a future quake.” 

The bridge was also damaged in the 1997 mudslides (and was repaired), has some load bearing restrictions for the ramps leading down to the port property below and, according to John Buswell, Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) manager of Bridges and Roadway structures, the Magnolia Bridge has never been seismically retrofitted. 

The Move Seattle transportation levy, recently passed by Seattle voters, has monies included in it “to seriously study the funding solution for the Magnolia Bridge,” Buswell added.


So what happened?

In 2002, SDOT, then called Seattle Transportation, used the disaster funds and began a process to select a replacement design for the then-70-year-old Magnolia Bridge. The Capitol Hill Times reported on Feb. 20, 2002, in an interview with Kirk Jones, the SDOT representative leading the effort in the Magnolia Bridge Replacement Project, “The consultant will prepare a ‘type, size and location’ (T,S &L) engineering study, which will cost between $7 million and $9 million…. The study will come from a $9 million federal appropriation secured by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.” 

A Design Advisory Group (DAG) was formed. HNTB Corp. was hired as the bridge design consultant. EnvrioIssues was hired to facilitate the public outreach of selecting the preferred design. SDOT managed the overall design process.

DAG is described by SDOT documents as “a mix of community stakeholders representing many sectors and local neighborhoods…. DAG advises and provides input to SDOT and project design team during the process to identify [bridge] alternatives and design elements. DAG has considerable influence on final decisions but not ultimate authority, which resides with the mayor and the City Council.”

A 2003 SDOT Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) document explained, “After brainstorming 25 replacement structures, two rounds of technical review and an extensive public involvement process, Alternatives A, D and H were selected for further study. Alternative A replaces the bridge with a similar facility just south of the existing bridge. Alternative D maintains the same endpoints as currently exist for the Magnolia Bridge but arcs the alignment to the north. Alternative H provides two access points: one similar to that provided for Alternative D, the other a northern route. A No Action/Rehabilitation alternative was also considered and rejected because the cost to bring the bridge to current safety and design standards was prohibitive. 

It took from October 2002 until 2005 to select Alternative A and from 2005 to 2008 to do a 30-percent design (40 percent for the bridge footings) of Alternative A. And potential funding sources — a complicated process of getting federal, state and local funds — were not identified. 

It will take approximately three years for the rest of the design and permitting to be completed and construction to begin; the build will take 30 to 36 months to complete. The cost estimates for replacement rise — $196 million, if the replacement bridge using Alternative A was built in 2009. At today’s  rate, it would be $236 million, with a 4-percent inflation rate for every year it is delayed, according to SDOT’s Kit Loo, a member of the Magnolia Bridge Replacement Project team at the time. 

How well this partially completed design will hold up, this many years later, is still a question. SDOT tried to mitigate this problem by being prudent, according to summary minutes of the last DAG meeting, on March 5, 2008.



On April 14, the Magnolia Historical Society (MHS) and Magnolia Community Council (MCC) will co-sponsor a meeting about the Magnolia Bridge. MHS will go over the history, augmented by engineering information by SDOT’s John Buswell, and Janis Traven, who served on DAG, will speak. There will be a Q-and-A session, as well. Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw will also attend the meeting. 

It will take place at the Magnolia Lutheran Church (2414 31st Ave W.), from 7 to 9 p.m.; the public is encouraged to attend.

Traven remains concerned that the Magnolia Bridge is still not replaced: “In 2001, the Nisqually earthquake reminded the City of Seattle what Magnolians already knew: Infrastructure matters. One of three access routes to our community has been patched and braced and is extremely vulnerable to another seismic or slide event. 

“DAG, with the community at-large, was asked what mattered to us and what could be improved upon in a bridge replacement…,” she said. “We contemplated how placement of the new bridge would impact proposed monorail stations, the 1.2-mile extended waterfront streetcar line and trolley barn and a multi-modal transit hub near the Port [of Seattle] property in Interbay that would service the development that was in the planning stages for the port. We stressed the importance of maintaining the port’s existing maritime business, freight mobility and living-wage jobs. We wanted a bridge access to the marina and waterfront when coming down the bridge from Magnolia. 

“At every meeting, we stressed the importance of adding a fourth access route to Magnolia,” she continued. “A repeated message from DAG was that Magnolia is only connected to the rest of the city by three bridges, and that a surface route — or even a specific plan for a surface route in the event of detour or catastrophe — had to be part of this project. There was the expectation that the questions posed at the end of our meetings would receive substantive answers at the next scheduled meeting — or the next one.

“Today, the Magnolia Bridge remains the most structurally insufficient bridge in the city,” Traven said. “There is neither funding nor a plan to fund its replacement or to provide what was a DAG priority: a fourth access to Magnolia.” 


MONICA WOOTON is a member of the Magnolia Historical Society ( To comment on this column, write to