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Aurora Bridge

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Aurora Bridge
George Washington Memorial Bridge.JPG
The main span of the bridge in 2015, looking west. The suspended truss is visible at the center of the cantilever arch structures.
Coordinates47°38′47″N 122°20′50″W / 47.6464°N 122.3472°W / 47.6464; -122.3472
Carries SR 99 (Aurora Avenue North)
CrossesLake Union
LocaleSeattle, Washington, U.S.
Official nameGeorge Washington Memorial Bridge
Maintained byWashington State DOT
ID number0001447A0000000
DesignMixed, cantilever and truss
Total length2,945 ft (898 m)
Width70 ft (21 m)
Longest span475 ft (145 m)
Clearance below167 ft (51 m)
OpenedFebruary 22, 1932
Daily traffic61,998 (2017)[1]
Aurora Avenue Bridge
LocationAurora Avenue North over Lake Washington Ship Canal, Seattle, Washington
Coordinates47°38′47″N 122°20′51″W / 47.64639°N 122.34750°W / 47.64639; -122.34750Coordinates: 47°38′47″N 122°20′51″W / 47.64639°N 122.34750°W / 47.64639; -122.34750
Built byU.S. Steel Products Corp.
ArchitectJacobs & Ober
MPSHistoric Bridges/Tunnels in Washington State TR
NRHP reference No.82004230[2]
Added to NRHPJuly 16, 1982

The Aurora Bridge (officially called the George Washington Memorial Bridge) is a cantilever and truss bridge in Seattle, Washington, United States. It carries State Route 99 (Aurora Avenue North) over the west end of Seattle's Lake Union and connects Queen Anne and Fremont. The bridge is located just east of the Fremont Cut, which itself is spanned by the Fremont Bridge.

The Aurora Bridge is owned and operated by the Washington State Department of Transportation.[3] It is 2,945 ft (898 m) long, 70 ft (21 m) wide, and 167 ft (51 m) above the water.[3] The bridge was opened to traffic on February 22, 1932, the 200th anniversary of the birth of namesake George Washington. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

The bridge has been the site of numerous fatal incidents over the years. It is a popular location for suicide jumpers and several reports have used the bridge as a case study in fields ranging from suicide prevention to the effects of pre-hospital care on trauma victims. In 1998, a bus driver was shot and killed while driving over the bridge, causing his bus to crash and resulting in the death of one of the passengers. In 2015, five people were killed and fifty were injured when an amphibious duck tour vehicle crashed into a charter bus on the bridge in an incident that also involved two smaller vehicles.


The northern anchor of the bridge
View from beneath the bridge

The bridge is 2,945 ft (898 m) long, 70 ft (21 m) wide, 167 ft (51 m) above the water and is owned and operated by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).[3] There are two V-shaped cantilever sections supporting the bridge deck, each 325 ft (99 m) long and balanced on large concrete pilings at opposite sides of the ship canal which serve as the two main supporting anchors.[3][4] Some 828 timber piles were driven for the foundation of the south anchor and 684 piles for the north. They range in size from 110 to 120 feet (34 to 37 m) and rest 50 to 55 feet (15 to 17 m) below the surface of the water. Together, the anchors support a load of 8,000 tons. Their construction required a pile driver that was specially designed to work underwater.[5]

A 150 ft (46 m) long Warren truss suspended span connects the two cantilevers in the middle. The bridge's main span is 475 ft (145 m) long. At either end of the bridge there are additional Warren truss spans which connect the cantilevered spans to the highway.[3][4]


Construction on the bridge piers began in 1929,[6] with construction of the bridge following shortly afterwards in 1931. The bridge's dedication was held on February 22, 1932, George Washington's 200th birthday;[3][7] it opened to traffic the same day.[5] A time capsule was installed on the bridge by the widow of Judge Thomas Burke and is planned to be opened in 2032.[8]

The bridge was the final link in what was then called the Pacific Highway (later known as U.S. Route 99), which ran from Canada to Mexico. The bridge crosses the Lake Union section of the Lake Washington Ship Canal and, unlike earlier bridges across the canal, the height of the Aurora Bridge eliminated the need for a drawbridge. In 1930 Seattle City Council voted to build connecting portions of the highway through the Woodland Park Zoo, a decision which generated considerable controversy at the time.[7]

The bridge was designed by the Seattle architectural firm Jacobs & Ober, with Ralph Ober as the lead engineer on the project. Ober died in August 1931, of a brain hemorrhage while it was still under construction.[9] Federal funding programs were not available at the time, so the bridge was funded by Seattle, King County, and the state of Washington.[4]

The bridge was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places on January 2, 1980, on account of its "functional and aesthetic" design qualities and its historical status as the first bridge constructed in the region without streetcar tracks.[5] It was accepted to the National Register on July 16, 1982.[5] The bridge formerly had a set of pedestrian refuge islands in the highway's median that were removed in 1944.[10]

In 1990 the Fremont Troll—a large cement sculpture of a troll clutching a real-life Volkswagen Beetle—was installed under the bridge's north end.[11] Up to half of the $40,000 cost for the artwork was donated from Seattle's Neighborhood Matching Fund, a local program to raise money for community projects.[11][12][13] The Troll was heavily vandalized in the year following its construction, and large floodlights were installed on the bridge to discourage further damage.[14]

Following the collapse of the Minneapolis I-35W arch-truss bridge on August 1, 2007, WSDOT was directed to perform inspections of all steel cantilever bridges in the state that used gusset plates in their design, including the George Washington Memorial Bridge.[15] The bridge had earlier been certified as structurally sound with no serious deficiencies detected.[16] That year, the Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inventory found the bridge to be "functionally obsolete".[17] The bridge was given a sufficiency rating of 55.2% and evaluated to be "better than minimum adequacy to tolerate being left in place as is".[17] Its foundations and railings met the acceptable standards and no immediate corrective action was needed to improve it.[17]

The George Washington Memorial Bridge underwent extensive seismic retrofitting in 2011 and 2012 at a cost of $5.7 million.[18] During a regular inspection in October 2019, WSDOT structural engineers determined that an outside stringer beam on the southbound side of the bridge had corroded to the point of creating a visible sag in the roadway.[19] Southbound traffic was reduced to two lanes for an emergency repair that cost $500,000 and took seven days (out of a scheduled ten days).[20][21]

Accidents and incidents[edit]

A southbound Route 358 articulated bus crossing the bridge in 2007

On November 27, 1998, King County Metro driver Mark McLaughlin, the driver of a southbound route 359 Express articulated bus, was shot and killed by a passenger, Silas Cool, while driving across the bridge.[22][23] Cool then shot himself as the bus veered across two lanes of traffic and plunged off the bridge's eastern side onto the roof of an apartment building below.[22][23] Herman Liebelt, a passenger on the bus, later died of injuries he sustained in the crash.[24] According to estimates from WSDOT, repairs to the bridge cost over $18,000.[25] Medical claims from the victims against King County amounted to $2.3 million.[26]

A service for McLaughlin was held on December 8, 1998, at KeyArena in Seattle.[27] Numerous state and county officials and over 100 transit drivers attended the service, which included a procession of over eighty Metro buses and vans.[27] Metro retired the number 359 as a route designation and replaced it with route 358 in February 1999, as part of a restructure of service on Aurora Avenue.[28] On February 15, 2014, Route 358 itself was retired, and replaced with the RapidRide E Line.[29]

On September 24, 2015, five people were killed[30] and fifty were injured when an amphibious "duck tour" vehicle crashed into a charter bus on the bridge in a collision that also involved two smaller vehicles. According to a representative from the Chinese consulate, all of the students were foreign-born. The students all attended North Seattle College, and were on their way to Safeco Field for new student orientation. One witness reported that it appeared as though the duck boat veered into the oncoming bus, after crossing the center line.[31][32][33] Some blame for the collision was placed on the narrowness of the 57-foot-wide (17 m) bridge deck, which has 9.5-foot-wide (2.9 m) lanes, and the lack of a median barrier to separate the two directions of traffic.[34] There have also been some calls to reduce the number of lanes from six narrow lanes to four wider lanes,[35] although early reports indicated that a mechanical failure of the duck tour vehicles' front axle may have also been a major factor in the crash.[36]


Sign for the suicide hotline on the George Washington Memorial Bridge
One of six emergency phones on the bridge

The bridge's height and pedestrian access make it a popular location for suicide jumpers.[37] Since construction, there have been over 230 suicides from the bridge, with nearly 50 deaths occurring in the decade 1995–2005.[3][38] The first suicide occurred on January 20, 1932, when a shoe salesman leapt from the bridge before it was completed.[39]

Numerous reports have been written about the high incidence of suicide on the bridge, many of them using the bridge as a case study in fields ranging from suicide prevention to the effects of prehospital care on trauma victims.[40] Despite the force of impact, jumpers occasionally survive the fall from the bridge, though not without sustaining serious injuries.[41][42]

News sources have referred to the George Washington Memorial Bridge as a suicide bridge.[43] In December 2006, six emergency phones and 18 signs were installed on the bridge to encourage people to seek help instead of jumping.[44][45][46] Around that time, a group of community activists and political leaders living near the bridge created the Fremont Individuals and Employees Nonprofit to Decrease Suicides (FRIENDS), their primary focus being the installation of a suicide barrier on the bridge.[47]

In 2007, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire allocated $1.4 million in her supplemental budget for the construction of an 8-foot-high (2.4 m) suicide-prevention fence to help reduce the number of suicides on the bridge.[46] Construction of the fence began in spring 2010 and was completed in February 2011, at a total cost of $4.8 million.[44][48]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "2018 Traffic Report" (PDF). Seattle Department of Transportation. December 2018. p. 11. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c Paul Dorpat; Genevieve McCoy (1998). Building Washington: A History of Washington State Public Works. Tartu Publications. p. 117. ISBN 0-9614357-9-8.
  4. ^ a b c d Elizabeth Atly; Lisa Soderberg (1982). "National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form" (PDF). National Park Service. p. 4.
  5. ^ "New bridge links coastal route". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Idaho. (Associate Press photo). October 3, 1930. p. 1.
  6. ^ a b Kit Oldham (February 17, 2007). "Seattle City Council votes to build Aurora Avenue through Woodland Park on June 30, 1930". HistoryLink. Retrieved September 7, 2008.
  7. ^ Duncan, Don (February 22, 1982). "Aurora Bridge: It was a big day of fanfare 50 years ago today". The Seattle Times. p. C1.
  8. ^ Kirby Lindsay (January 11, 2007). "The draw of the Aurora Bridge: Despite popular belief, the Aurora Bridge isn't prone to heartbreaking situations". Pacific Publishing Company. Retrieved October 20, 2007.[dead link]
  9. ^ Barr, Robert A. (February 14, 1973). "Another chapter of Aurora Avenue history unfolds". The Seattle Times. p. C7.
  10. ^ a b Constantine Angelos (December 10, 1990). "Monstrous New Fun In Fremont". The Seattle Times. Retrieved August 21, 2008.
  11. ^ "Neighborhood Improvement Program - A Home-Grown Idea Wins National Applause". The Seattle Times. September 24, 1991. Retrieved August 21, 2008.
  12. ^ Cecilia Goodnow (April 2, 1992). "Troll-lific:Gnomes are multiplying". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved August 21, 2008.[dead link]
  13. ^ "Fremont Troll Gets The Light Of His Life". The Seattle Times. March 5, 1991. Retrieved August 21, 2008.
  14. ^ "Washington State Bridge Construction Practices and Gusset Plates". Washington State Department of Transportation. 2007. Archived from the original on June 17, 2009. Retrieved December 3, 2007.
  15. ^ "2007 Annual Bridge Update" (PDF). Washington State Department of Transportation. June 30, 2007. Retrieved December 3, 2007.
  16. ^ a b c Federal Highway Administration (2007). "Place Name: Seattle, Washington; NBI Structure Number: 0001447A0000000 ; Facility Carried: SR 99; Feature Intersected: Aurora Avenue, Lake Union". (Alexander Svirsky). Archived from the original on June 17, 2009. Retrieved September 6, 2008. Note: this is a formatted scrape of the 2007 official website, which can be found here for Washington: "WA07.txt". Federal Highway Administration. 2007. Retrieved September 8, 2008.
  17. ^ "WSDOT - Project - SR 99 - Aurora Bridge and Column Seismic Retrofit". Washington State Department of Transportation. Archived from the original on June 3, 2011. Retrieved June 6, 2011.
  18. ^ Lindblom, Mike (October 28, 2019). "Rusty steel beam closes a lane on busy Aurora Bridge all week — and maybe longer". The Seattle Times. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  19. ^ "How Atkinson's team fixed the SR 99 Aurora Bridge in a week". Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce. November 18, 2019. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  20. ^ "All lanes of SR 99 Aurora bridge in Seattle open early" (Press release). Washington State Department of Transportation. November 5, 2019. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  21. ^ a b "Rider shoots driver; 2 dead, dozens hurt". The Seattle Times. November 28, 1998. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  22. ^ a b Deborah Nelson; Christine Clarridge; J. Martin Mcomber; Tan Vinh; Eric Sorensen; Chris Solomon (November 30, 1998). "Bus Driver Killed By Shot To Chest -- Search Of Gunman's Apartment Turns Up Additional Guns, Knives". The Seattle Times. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  23. ^ Chris Solomon (November 29, 1998). "Victim Was Trying 'To Make A Difference' - Herman Liebelt Had Varied Interests, Causes". The Seattle Times. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  24. ^ "Part Of Bridge To Be Closed". The Seattle Times. December 19, 1998. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  25. ^ Roberto Sanchez (April 11, 2000). "Aurora bus wreck tops county list of $10.9 million for claims, suits". The Seattle Times. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  26. ^ a b Jack Broom; Christine Clarridge (December 8, 1998). "Bus Drivers Honor One Of Their Own -- Memorial For Mark Mclaughlin". The Seattle Times. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  27. ^ Schaefer, David (February 5, 1999). "Metro adds routes, buses tomorrow". The Seattle Times. p. B2. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  28. ^ Lindblom, Mike (February 15, 2014). "Aurora Avenue North bus now RapidRide". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on August 19, 2016. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  29. ^ "NTSB: Duck vehicle didn't have recommended axle repair". USA Today. September 27, 2015.
  30. ^ "4 killed as 'Ride The Ducks' vehicle collides with charter bus". KING-TV. September 24, 2015. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  31. ^ "4 killed, 51 injured as 'Duck' vehicle, bus collide on Aurora Bridge". KOMO-TV. September 24, 2015. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  32. ^ Kim, Janet (September 25, 2015). "International students killed on Aurora Bridge were from North Seattle College". KCPQ. Retrieved September 24, 2015.
  33. ^ Lindblom, Mike; Baker, Mike (September 24, 2015). "Span's narrow lanes a longtime safety concern". The Seattle Times. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  34. ^ Johnson, Graham (September 24, 2015). "Should Aurora Bridge have fewer lanes and traffic barrier?". KIRO-TV. Archived from the original on September 26, 2015. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  35. ^ Warren, Ted S. (September 26, 2015). "Feds: Axle from duck boat in deadly crash 'sheared off'". Kitsap Sun.
  36. ^ Charles Mudede (April 19, 2000). "Jumpers". The Stranger. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  37. ^ "Suicide Prevention Week". September 10, 2012. Retrieved September 16, 2012.
  38. ^ "City hopes to dissuade suicidal jumpers". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. October 2, 2006. Archived from the original on January 4, 2020. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  39. ^ Fortner GS, Oreskovich MR, Copass MK, Carrico CJ (1983). "The Effects of Prehospital Trauma Care on Survival from a 50 Meter Fall". Journal of Trauma. 23 (11): 976–81. doi:10.1097/00005373-198311000-00003. PMID 6632028.
  40. ^ "Woman survives jump from Aurora Bridge". The Seattle Times. September 30, 2007. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  41. ^ "Life After The Fall". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. March 5, 1996. Archived from the original on March 10, 2011. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  42. ^ "'Suicide bridge' hurts workers' mental health". NBC News. January 26, 2007. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  43. ^ a b "SR 99 - Aurora Bridge Fence - Completed February 2011". Washington State Department of Transportation. February 2011. Archived from the original on April 19, 2015. Retrieved September 27, 2015.
  44. ^ "State budget includes suicide fence on Aurora Bridge". KOMO News. Associated Press. December 18, 2007. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  45. ^ a b Donna Gordon Blankinship (December 19, 2007). "Money for fence to cut Aurora Bridge suicides". Associated Press. Archived from the original on December 21, 2007. Retrieved August 21, 2008.
  46. ^ Marc Ramirez (September 17, 2007). "Neighbors work to end bridge's tragic pull". The Seattle Times. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  47. ^ "SR 99 Aurora Bridge Fence - Common Questions". Washington State Department of Transportation. February 2011. Archived from the original on September 13, 2014. Retrieved September 27, 2015.

External links[edit]