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George Washington Memorial Bridge

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Aurora Bridge
George Washington Memorial Bridge.JPG
The main span of the bridge, looking west. The suspended truss is visible at the center of the cantilever arch structures
Carries SR 99 (Aurora Avenue North)
Crosses Lake Union
Locale Seattle, Washington
Official name George Washington Memorial Bridge
Maintained by Washington State DOT
ID number 0001447A0000000
Design Mixed, cantilever and truss
Total length 2,945 ft (898 m)
Width 70 ft (21 m)
Longest span 475 ft (145 m)
Clearance below 167 ft (51 m)

February 22, 1932

Aurora Avenue Bridge
Location Aurora Ave., N. over Lake Washington Ship Canal, Seattle, Washington
Coordinates 47°39′47″N 122°20′51″W / 47.66306°N 122.34750°W / 47.66306; -122.34750Coordinates: 47°39′47″N 122°20′51″W / 47.66306°N 122.34750°W / 47.66306; -122.34750
Built 1931–32
Built by U.S. Steel Products Corp.
Architect Jacobs & Ober
Governing body Washington State DOT
MPS Historic Bridges/Tunnels in Washington State TR
NRHP Reference # 82004230[1]
Added to NRHP July 16, 1982
Daily traffic 71,000 (2007)[2]

The George Washington Memorial Bridge (commonly called the Aurora Bridge) is a cantilever and truss bridge that 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 bridge is 2,945 ft (898 m) long, 70 ft (21 m) wide, and 167 ft (51 m) above the water,[3] and is owned and operated by the Washington State Department of Transportation.[3] The bridge was opened to traffic on February 22, 1932. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The bridge is a popular location for suicide jumpers and numerous reports have used the bridge as a case study in fields ranging from suicide prevention to the effects of prehospital 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.


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.[3] There are two v-shaped cantilever sections supporting the bridge deck, each 325 ft (99 m) long, 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, with construction of the bridge following shortly afterwards in 1931, with its dedication held on February 22, 1932, George Washington's 200th birthday.[3][6] It opened to traffic the same day.[5]

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. The 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.[6]

It 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 the bridge was still under construction.[7] Federal funding programs were not yet available, 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, for its "functional and aesthetic" design qualities and for 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]

A local landmark, the Fremont Troll—a large cement sculpture of a troll clutching a real-life Volkswagen Beetle—was installed under the bridge's north end in 1990.[8] 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.[8][9][10] The sculpture was heavily vandalized in the year following its construction and large floodlights were installed on the bridge to discourage further damage.[11]

Following the collapse of the Minneapolis I-35W arch-truss bridge on August 1, 2007, the Washington State Department of Transportation 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.[12] The bridge had earlier been certified as structurally sound with no serious deficiencies detected.[13]

In 2007, the Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inventory found the bridge to be "functionally obsolete".[14] 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".[14] Its foundations and railings met the acceptable standards and no immediate corrective action was needed to improve it.[14]

Beginning in June 2011, The George Washington Memorial Bridge will undergo extensive seismic retrofitting. The retrofitting is expected to complete in Fall of 2012 at a cost of $5.7 million US dollars.[15]


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.[16] Since construction, there have been over 230 completed suicides from the bridge, with nearly 50 deaths occurring in the decade 1995–2005.[3][17] The first suicide occurred in January 1932, when a shoe salesman leapt from the bridge before it was completed.[18]

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.[19]

Despite the force of impact, jumpers occasionally survive the fall from the bridge, though not without sustaining serious injuries.[20][21]

News sources have referred to the George Washington Memorial Bridge as a suicide bridge[22] and, in December 2006, six emergency phones and 18 signs were installed on the bridge to encourage people to seek help instead of jumping.[23][24] In late 2006 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.[25]

In 2007, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire allocated $1.4 million in her supplemental budget for the construction of an 8-foot (2.4 m) high suicide-prevention fence to help reduce the number of suicides on the bridge.[24] Construction of the fence began in spring 2010 and was completed in February 2011, at a total cost of $4.8 Million.[26]

Metro bus tragedy[edit]

A southbound Route 358 articulated bus crosses the George Washington Memorial Bridge

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.[27][28] 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.[27][28] Herman Liebelt, a passenger on the bus, later died of injuries he sustained in the crash.[29]

A service for McLaughlin was held on December 8, 1998, at KeyArena in Seattle.[30] Numerous state and county officials and over 100 transit drivers attended the service, which included a procession of over eighty Metro buses and vans.[30] Metro announced their plans to retire the number 359 as a route designation and replace it with route 358. On February 15, 2014, Route 358 was retired, and replaced with the RapidRide E Line.[30]

According to estimates from the Washington State Department of Transportation, repairs to the bridge cost over $18,000.[31] Medical claims from the victims against King County amounted to $2.3 million.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  2. ^ "2007 Annual Traffic Report" (PDF). Transportation Data Office, Washington State Department of Transportation. 2008. p. 125. Retrieved 2008-09-08. 
  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. ^ a b Kit Oldham (February 17, 2007). "Seattle City Council votes to build Aurora Avenue through Woodland Park on June 30, 1930". HistoryLink. Retrieved 2008-09-07. 
  6. ^ 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 2007-10-20. [dead link]
  7. ^ a b Constantine Angelos (December 10, 1990). "Monstrous New Fun In Fremont". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2008-08-21. 
  8. ^ "Neighborhood Improvement Program - A Home-Grown Idea Wins National Applause". The Seattle Times. 1991-09-24. Retrieved 2008-08-21. 
  9. ^ Cecilia Goodnow (April 2, 1992). "Troll-lific:Gnomes are multiplying". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved 2008-08-21. [dead link]
  10. ^ "Fremont Troll Gets The Light Of His Life". The Seattle Times. March 5, 1991. Retrieved 2008-08-21. 
  11. ^ "Washington State Bridge Construction Practices and Gusset Plates". Washington State Department of Transportation. 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-03. 
  12. ^ "2007 Annual Bridge Update" (PDF). Washington State Department of Transportation. June 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-03. 
  13. ^ a b c Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inventory (2007). "Place Name: Seattle, Washington; NBI Structure Number: 0001447A0000000 ; Facility Carried: SR 99; Feature Intersected: Aurora Avenue, Lake Union". (Alexander Svirsky). Retrieved 2008-09-06. [dead link] 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 2008-09-08. 
  14. ^ "WSDOT - Project - SR 99 - Aurora Bridge and Column Seismic Retrofit". Washington State Department of Transportation. Retrieved 2011-06-06. 
  15. ^ Charles Mudede (April 19, 2000). "Jumpers". The Stranger. Retrieved 2007-10-20. 
  16. ^ "Suicide Prevention Week". September 10, 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-16. 
  17. ^ "City hopes to dissuade suicidal jumpers". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. October 2, 2006. Retrieved 2007-10-20. [dead link]
  18. ^ 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. 
  19. ^ "Woman survives jump from Aurora Bridge". The Seattle Times. September 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-20. 
  20. ^ "Life After The Fall". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. March 5, 1996. Retrieved 2007-10-20. [dead link]
  21. ^ "'Suicide bridge’ hurts workers’ mental health". January 26, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-20. 
  22. ^ "SR 99 - Aurora Bridge Fence". Washington State Department of Transportation. 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-03. 
  23. ^ a b Donna Gordon Blankinship (December 19, 2007). "Money for fence to cut Aurora Bridge suicides". The Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-08-21. 
  24. ^ Marc Ramirez (September 17, 2007). "Neighbors work to end bridge's tragic pull". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-10-20. 
  25. ^ >"SR 99 - Aurora Bridge Fence". February 15, 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-29. 
  26. ^ a b "Rider Shoots Driver; 2 Dead, Dozens Hurt -- Bus Careens Off Bridge -- Murder-Suicide A Possibility". The Seattle Times. November 28, 1998. Retrieved 2007-10-20. 
  27. ^ 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 2007-10-20. 
  28. ^ Chris Solomon (November 29, 1998). "Victim Was Trying `To Make A Difference' - Herman Liebelt Had Varied Interests, Causes". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-10-20. 
  29. ^ a b c Jack Broom; Christine Clarridge (December 8, 1998). "Bus Drivers Honor One Of Their Own -- Memorial For Mark Mclaughlin". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-10-20. 
  30. ^ "Part Of Bridge To Be Closed". The Seattle Times. December 19, 1998. Retrieved 2007-10-20. 
  31. ^ Roberto Sanchez (April 11, 2000). "Aurora bus wreck tops county list of $10.9 million for claims, suits". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-10-20. 

External links[edit]