AKA: State of Washington, Washington, George, Memorial Bridge, Seattle, WA; State of Washington, Department of Transportation (WSDOT), Aurora Avenue Bridge, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - infrastructure - transportation structures - bridges

Designers: Jacobs and Ober, Engineers (firm); United States Steel Products Corporation (firm); Joseph Jacobs (engineer); Ralph Hadlock Ober (civil engineer)

Dates: constructed 1929-1932

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Aurora Avenue
Seattle, WA

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Aurora Avenue North over the Lake Washington Ship Canal.


This bridge spanned the Lake Washington Ship Canal and formed a key element of US Highway 99, that traversed the Pacific Coast from Mexico through the United States to Canada. It opened on the bicentennial anniversary of George Washington's birth, 02/22/1932. The route became known as Washington State Highway 99, when the road was reclassed after the opening of US Highway 5.

Building History

This bridge was built by the United States Steel Products Corporation. Construction of the bridge's piers began in 1929; steel work on the bridge began in 1931, concluding on Washington's Birthday, 02/22/1932. when traffic first used the span. Controversy developed before the bridge's construction due to its route through Woodland Park. Many Seattleites wanted to preserve the park's integrity and resented how the roadway would slice the civic amenity in two. In the end, the State Highway Department and the "good roads" lobby (a very potent lobbying force in the 1910s-1920s) prevailed and the George Washington Memorial Bridge was erected through the Woodland Park route.

A great celebration accompanied the bridge's opening in 1932. Governor Roland Hartley (1864-1952) and emissaries of the Mexican and Canadian governments cut a ceremonial log to open the structure. President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) sent an electronic signal to have large flags unfurled on the bridge before a 21-gun salute was set off and sirens wailed. This was one of many bicentennial observations of Washington's birth around the US.

The main engineering designer for the bridge was Ralph H. Ober (1871-1931), of the Seattle firm of Jacobs and Ober. (Prior to 05/18/2020, PCAD had ascribed the design to Otto Elwell. This was incorrect. Thank you to JuLee Rudolf for pointing out the error. See email to the author from Ms. Rudolf, 04/14/2020.) Ober designed the state's second-longest steel cantilever bridge, 2.955-feet long with a road-bed about 70 feet wide. (The longest cantilever span connected Longview, WA, and Rainier, OR, the 8,288-foot Longview Bridge, built by a private company in 1930. The State of WA bought the structure in 1947.) In a paper discussing the seismic retrofit of the George Washington Memorial (aka Aurora Avenue) Bridge following the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake, Hongzhi Zhang of the Washington State Department of Transportation, described it as follows: “The length of the bridge is 2955 feet including a five span main truss, a twelve continuous span concrete north approach and a south approach with three continuous concrete spans and three simple steel truss spans.”(See Hongzhi Zhang, “Seismic Retrofit of Aurora Avenue Bridge with Friction Pendulum Isolation Bearings,” in Proceedings of the Third National Seismic Conference and Workshop on Bridges and Highways: Advances in Engineering and Technology for the Seismic Safety of Bridges in the New Millennium, Portland, OR, 04/28/2000-05-01-2002, Roland Nimis and Michel Bruneau, eds., [Buffalo, NY: Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research, 2002], p. 73.) The bridge's steel girder skeleton rested on a network of paired concrete piers. The primary north concrete pier rests on a foundation composed of a network of 684 bundled logs under the lake bed and 828 logs under the primary south pier. The logs were set in a mix of gravel, clay and sand.

The 2007 Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inventory gave the Aurora Avenue Bridge a 55.2% rating, meaning that it had "better than minimum adequacy" for handling current traffic loads. By 2018, 70,000 vehicles crossed the bridge each day. (See Mark Higgins, Seattle Times.com, “Stop the legal blame game, and fix Seattle’s deadly Aurora Bridge,” published 06/14/2018, accessed 05/18/2020.)

On 09/25/2015, a Ride the Ducks tour vehicle, based on the US military's DUKW model, experienced a broken axle and collided with a charter bus carrying North Seattle College International students on the Aurora Bridge. Another car, swerving to avoid the tour vehicle-bus collision, hit another car head-on in the incident. Five were killed, thirteen badly hurt and twenty others suffered minor injuries in the accident. (See Seattle Times.com, “4 dead, 2 critically injured in collision between Ride the Ducks vehicle, charter bus on Aurora Bridge,” published 09/24/2015, accessed 05/18/2020 and John Caldbick, HistoryLink.org, "Five die and 69 are injured after Ride the Ducks amphibious tour vehicle collides with charter bus on Aurora Bridge in Seattle on September 24, 2015," published 03/20/2019, accessed 05/18/2020.)

Building Notes

Listed on Historic Bridges/Tunnels in Washington State TR and the National Register of Historic Places, level of significance: State. The combination truss and cantilever bridge had a length of 2,955 feet. WSDOT ID #0001447A0000000.


Suicide-prevention screens were added to the bridge in 2009; up to that point, 230 individuals had dropped the 167 feet to their deaths since 1932.

Seismic upgrades were made on the bridge in 2005 and 2012. In 2005, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) crews installed new expansion joints and bearings.

Work occurred during 11/2012 to reinforce the span with concrete and steel members.

The roadbed of the Aurora Avenue Bridge was repaved between 05/2019 and 07/2019.

In 10/2019, Bart Treece a WSDOT spokesman indicated that “advanced deterioration of steel on the underside of the Aurora Bridge” had been found under the southbound lanes. This required repair that would slow traffic on the highly-used span. (See Heraldnet.com, “Aurora Avenue bridge in Seattle undergoing emergency repairs,” published 10/28/2019, accessed 05/18/2020.)

National Register of Historic Places (July 16, 1982): 82004230 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 8085