What SDOT Needs To Do About the Magnolia Bridge


Evy Peyovich, Editor

Almost everyone who lives in Magnolia has driven across the bridge – accurately named the Magnolia Bridge. This just one way to get from this family neighborhood to Interbay, as well as Elliot Bay, but this bridge carries approximately seventeen thousand (17,000) vehicles every day, and it stretches over train tracks and a ravine. If the bridge were to crumble, crack, or fall altogether, it could be catastrophic. But that won’t happen, right?

Here’s the thing. Yes, it’s unlikely for the bridge to collapse this very day, but the structure is 89, going on 90, years old. It’s expected to wear out in 2020. There are 366 days in 2020 because the upcoming year is a leap year, and that means that on any given day there’s about a 1 in 366 chance that the bridge could show some damage – not collapse, but show (likely significant) symptoms of the overpass’ old age. We can all agree that that doesn’t sound very pleasant. There’s low odds of cars being chucked into a ravine today, tomorrow, or the next day, and so on. But, better safe than sorry, right? We shouldn’t take our chances. The bridge, as experts say, should last at least until 2024 without collapsing, but if an earthquake strikes, there is a high probability that the bridge would come down. And since the Juan De Fuca Plate, the large tectonic plate underwater parallel to the West coast has had huge (7-9 on the Richter Scale) earthquakes every 300-500 years in the past, we can expect that for our future. And, guess what? It has been 319 years since the last earthquake of this size (for perspective, the last earthquake sent tsunamis to Japan, as seen in the historical texts that have been found).

The good news is, SDOT (Seattle Department of Transportation) launched a planning study in 2017 naming 4 alternatives for rebuilding, replacing, or remodeling the Magnolia Bridge. But there’s bad news, too. The first alternative costs ($200M – $350M), the second costs  ($190M – $350M), the third could be ($210M – $360M), and the last, ($340M – $420M). So, yeah. That is a lot of money. And SDOT doesn’t have that money. With the Alaskan Way Viaduct project, and the SR 99 Tunnel (the viaduct’s replacement), the Seattle Department of Transportation has got its hands full – and its wallet empty. And a 300 million dollar project before 2024, or sooner? Possible, not plausible. Also, the South Transit 3 Light Rail, a transport option spanning a lot of Seattle, is an enormous project and it isn’t due until 2035. And that sounds like they don’t need to start construction soon, right? But because this project is so large, construction will start soon. With this comes the closure of many of the other ways from Magnolia to the rest of the city. If SDOT were to start the Magnolia Bridge project now, the people in this neighborhood would be close to stranded. 

So I talked to people who are and will be impacted by the upcoming changes in the Magnolia Bridge, and who have a background in architecture. My parents. 


Me: So, how often do you travel on the Magnolia Bridge? 

Mom: I would say six times, total, 3 times each way, on, um, average. 

Me: Have you heard about the closing of the bridge, and the fact that, eh, SDOT doesn’t have the money to make the necessary improvements on the 90-year-old bridge? 

Mom: I sure have. I’m not too excited about that, being that it’s a major arterial out of Magnolia. I’m concerned about what the options would be if the bridge were removed. 

Me: What do you think SDOT should do? (I explained the 4 options for the bridge at this point) 

Mom: Do I have ideas about SDOT? *laughs*, Well I would like to ask them why they chose to put money into al the bike lanes that are coming into the third route into Magnolia, saying 1,2,3, bridge, Dravus, Fishermans Terminal. Our third route into Magnolia is now completely congested because SDOT chose to close down the lane and put in a bike lane which is rarely used, in the times that I’ve [been there], um, but, I digress. I don’t know Evy, I mean, I don’t see a good option that doesn’t span the train tracks. 

My dad, an architect, jumped in: I have an answer. So, they don’t need to replace the entirety of the bridge, all they need to do is replace the parts that go over the train tracks, then they could even come down, go down over towards Palisade, there are three houses that they need to eminent domain which would be just, like, a million bucks, connect that road to the road the comes up underneath the Howe bridge, and you have a completely new way to get in here that would cost you 50 million or less. 

Me: Alright, thanks for your time. 

In the end, SDOT needs to act. Fast. And if they need money, we need to find a way for them to have money. Or, find a better solution, as named previously, to save money. Thanks for reading, and if you have any ideas, I’m open! 



“Magnolia Bridge Planning Study.” Magnolia Bridge Planning Study – Transportation, www.seattle.gov/transportation/magnoliabridgeplanning.

Reid, Lisa. “MBPS Alternative Analysis Memo/ Planning Study.” SDOT, 2017, www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/SDOT/BridgeStairsProgram/bridges/Magnolia/MBPS-AlternativeAnalysisMemo-Spring2019.pdf.

Lindblom, Mike. “Seattle’s Magnolia Bridge Is about Worn out, but City Says It Can’t Afford a Replacement.” The Seattle Times, The Seattle Times Company, 7 June 2018, www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/seattles-magnolia-bridge-is-about-worn-out-but-city-says-it-cant-afford-a-replacement/.