With all that is going on in the world, it could be easy to miss that the NBA has allowed teams to start practicing again as long as it complies with the local COVID restrictions, what us in Seattle didn't miss is the news that the West Seattle Bridge is CLOSED. And not just closed for a few days, weeks, or months, the reality is that it is closed for at least two-years. Two years is a long time. Today I will discuss the current condition of the bridge, what the plan(s) is to address the situation, and give my opinion on how it will affect the West Seattle housing market. This is a near and dear topic as I plan to move to West Seattle in the future. :)
West Seattle Bridge Stats
Approximately half a mile long
Opened in 1984 with the intention of lasting 75 years
I do not expect that they had considered that Seattle's population would blow up as much as it has since the '80s. With the amount of traffic that is often in a standstill on the bridge, it is not a surprise we're in this situation.
~85,000 passenger vehicles per day in 2019
~17,000 transit riders per day in 2019
Current Condition of the Bridge
Not good. The bridge has been inspected twice a year since 2013 for safety, and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) made a point to fill in cracks that formed over the years in 2019 to protect the bridge from the elements. Cracking over the six years between 2013 and 2019 was quite slow and did not necessarily pose a danger. In late 2019 and into early-2020, the engineering consultants for the bridge took a closer look and found that the cracking started to accelerate, and small cracks that were being monitored grew to over four-feet in just two-weeks. On one wall, eight cracks had expanded over twelve-feet total. The consultant and SDOT raised the alarm on the morning of the 23rd, and by the evening on Monday, March 23rd, the bridge was quickly closed by SDOT. See the picture below with the alternate routes available to get to and from West Seattle.
Plan for the Bridge As of now, research is still being done, and SDOT is in the process of finding the best solution. The active debate is about whether to repair the bridge and get another ten-years of use out of it or build a brand new bridge. The moral of the story with either approach is that whether it is fixed or newly built, the process will take at least two or three years. What this means for your commute or just a day at Alki Beach... Before the West Seattle bridge closure getting to Alki beach from Downtown Seattle or Bellevue took about 15-minutes by car. Now it takes about 25-minutes. These numbers are without traffic. Now I would like to point out that the bridge closure has the most significant impact on commuters that live in the northern half of West Seattle. Most commuters who lived South of SW Morgan Street would take the South Park bridge anyway. That said, now that all West Seattle residents are forced to take the alternative route, it would be naive to think that the commute would be anything less than an hour when traffic is back to normal in a post-COVID world during rush hour. Furthermore, the alternative routes were never intended or designed to handle so much more traffic.
West Seattle Housing
A question I have come across numerous times these past few weeks is, "what will happen to West Seattle housing prices considering the bridge closure?" This is a big question with various factors, so I will do my best to keep it concise. On a basic level, I do not believe that the full effect of the bridge closure has dawned on residence in Seattle and West Seattle. This is primarily due to the fact that the bridge closure happened within about 24 hours of the Washington State Stay at Home Order. The timing was perfect. Due to the minimal traffic with the Stay at Home order, no one has experienced commuting at 8 AM or 5 PM with "normal traffic." When things start returning to normal and workers start commuting again, I can see the reality of the commute setting in. For the time being, prices in West Seattle have hardly changed at all with COVID-19 and the bridge closure. If anything, all signs are showing a resilient market like the rest of the city. After the Stay at Home Order So what happens after the Stay at Home order is lifted? The reality of the commute will set in. That said, the city is working on increasing the West Seattle Water Taxi and potentially allowing public transit to use the bridge. Depending on how well organized and publicized those alternatives are, it may not be all doom and gloom for your commute. Personally, I love using the West Seattle Water Taxi. Not only is it super fast, but I'd argue it has one of the best views of the city. You can see the 15-minute route in the image below. You can even use your Orca Card on it. This not to forget the free shuttle bus from the water-taxi terminal with two different routes to help access the water-taxi. For most home buyers looking in West Seattle, they already factor in being further out of the way (assuming they work downtown or in Bellevue), so being just a little further may not be a big deal. That said, there will undoubtedly be some sellers who will have to move because of the bridge closure and their type of work. It could create opportunities for some buyers. Even still, I have not seen a diminishing demand for West Seattle housing and see prices holding steady or appreciating over the next couple of years. The silver lining to the Stay at Home order is that companies have become far more open to the idea of their employees working from home. Many Seattlites have that capability, and most employers are coming around to the idea of having people work from home more than pre-COVID times. The Future Of course, we all know that the bridge will get fixed one way or another within the next 2-3 years. It will be an improvement over what the West Seattle Bridge was before the closure. After speaking with many engineers, there is a decent chance that the light rail, that was initially planned for near 2030, for West Seattle, may get bumped up if the City of Seattle can convince Sound Transit to add it to a new bridge if they decide to go down that path. If West Seattle is to get the light rail even five years earlier than expected, I would predict that home prices will pre-emptively go up in anticipation of a Light Rail completion. That would be a game-changer. Speaking of game-changers, most people do not know this, but since Expedia has moved its HQ to the Interbay neighborhood from Bellevue, they have been pushing for a new water-taxi route that would go from West Seattle to Interbay/Magnolia. This addition would help ease traffic to a part of town that is already a challenge to get to with the limited bus routes. The new water taxi route is expected to happen in a couple of years, maybe less. Final Thoughts All in all, with the potential for light rail to expand much sooner to West Seattle, more water taxi service, added bus routes, and a brand new water taxi route, West Seattle is poised to be more connected than ever. It may feel like an island today, but within three years, I suspect that with the infrastructure improvements that will come as a result of the bridge failure, West Seattle home prices will ultimately appreciate more than many other core neighborhoods of Seattle.
What are your thoughts on the West Seattle bridge closure? I would love to hear your perspective. Email me or comment below! The current market is very strong, and many buyers/sellers are using quarantine to plan for their year ahead. The sooner you can make a plan, the more prepared you will be. I regularly meet with buyers/sellers up to a year in advance to help plan as the decisions you make today can affect your situation when you go to "make the move." If you are considering buying or selling a home, contact me by replying directly to this, and I would be happy to help you game plan your next purchase or sale via Zoom or Facetime!
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