At approximately 7:56 p.m. on June 30, 2010, the South Park Bridge closes to vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The bridge passes over the navigable portion of the Duwamish River at 14th to 16th Avenue S and has carried some 20,000 vehicles per day. The leaves are opened permanently to prevent road traffic from passing over the Duwamish River and to allow river traffic to travel between the raised leaves. King County has deemed the bridge structure so deteriorated that "there are no feasible repair options" ("South Park Bridge #3179 "). Hundreds of people gather for a wake that includes dancers, drummers from the Duwamish Tribe, bagpipers, mural painters, a Latino band, and many other mourners. The bridge and vehicles crossing and many persons are draped with 10- or 12-foot long pink streamers. For four years, no bridge will span that part of the Duwamish River. These years will be taken up with Herculean efforts at fundraising, followed by river restoration, the taking down of the old bridge, and construction of a new bascule bridge. Exactly four years to the day after the closure, the new bridge will open to traffic at 6 a.m. on June 30, 2014.
South Park is a neighborhood of Seattle with some 4,000 residents that lies on the west side of the Duwamish River, whereas most of the rest of Seattle lies on the east side and then to the north. A number of South Park residents work at Boeing (on the other side of the river). The bridge was considered a vital lifeline to the community and to the many small businesses that operate there. The mood at the wake was not joyful. In question was how the community would survive with its lifeline cut off. Some comments:
"It's a wake. It's a sad closing and will probably never reopen. This is the south end. It's always ignored" (John Dickenson, "Crowds Bid Goodbye to the South Park Bridge").
"My favorite restaurant is here. This is a growing community and this is a stab in the back" (Paula James, Crowds Bid Goodbye to the South Park Bridge").
"RIP. South Park Bridge Died of Neglect by Seattle and King County" (Hand-painted sign in the shape of a tombstone by Raymundo Olivas, "Crowds Bid Goodbye to the South Park Bridge").
Time To Go
The bridge was crowded with mourners. Eyewitness and photographer M. Anne Sweet had this report:
"The bridge was supposed to close (or open...) at 7 p.m. It was nearer to 8 p.m. when they finally got everyone to move back. .... The police and other officials were there. They at first tried a gentle approach of just walking through the crowd asking people to start moving down off the bridge, to no avail. Then officials, along with a few recruits from the crowd, linked arms to try and start moving folks down the bridge that way, also to little avail.
"Finally the lead official got on the police mic and asked people to move down, that they were trying to close the bridge in a respectful manner. At that point people did start moving down the bridge -- slowly. First they wanted us behind where the bridge hinged. Everyone got settled in there and then they wanted us behind the gates. We got settled in there and then they wanted us behind the bridge traffic lights. There was much grumbling and dismay from the crowd about being continually moved back, but everyone was peaceful" (M. Anne Sweet).
The Moment of Silence
Finally an official asked for a moment of silence for the bridge. The crowd began chanting "We want the bridge! We want the bridge!" This chant then morphed into "We need the bridge! We need the bridge!" (M. Anne Sweet). After a few minutes of chanting the official thanked the crowd for their moment of silence.
The long low warning horn sounded. The gate bells clanged as the barrier gates were lowered. The great leaves of the bascule bridge began to slowly rise. The crowd booed and moaned.
Following the slow and dramatic opening of the leaves, the crowd began singing "Amazing Grace." This was followed by "South Park Bridge Is Falling Down" sung to the tune of "London Bridge Is Falling Down."
For the next four years the South Park neighborhood adjusted to new routes and longer commute times. The small neighborhood businesses that depended on bridge traffic suffered. There was huge support for a new bridge.
The New South Park Bridge
During the summer of 2010, the County raised $100 million from various federal, state, and local jurisdictions toward a new South Park Bridge. In August 2010, the County applied for a federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant. On October 15, 2010, King County was awarded a $34 million TIGER grant to complete financing of the new bridge.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the new bridge took place on May 5, 2011. The expected opening date for the new double-leaved bascule bridge was to be in September 2013, but technical difficulties -- hard clay found 62 feet below the river bottom on the South Park side had to be removed before the huge concrete abutment could be sunk eight more feet -- caused a several-months delay.
The grand opening celebration for the new South Park Bridge took place on June 29, 2014. The bridge opened to all traffic on Monday morning, June 30, 2014.