Ruminations

How to properly mourn an overpass

The Alaskan Way Viaduct, a concrete conveyor belt that pushed traffic through downtown Seattle for more than 60 years, permanently closed to traffic at 10 p.m. on January 11. But the defunct overpass did not go quietly into that good night. Locals poured out onto the rickety former thoroughfare, replacing the din of traffic with dance, song, and even a few fireworks.

The viaduct.

The viaduct.

The viaduct, which over the next six months will be dismembered and paved over with parks, wasn’t the only iconic span to meet its timely end this week. At 10:52 a.m. on Tuesday, “boomers” detonated a portion of New York’s old Tappan Zee Bridge, which had spanned the Hudson since 1955, to immense fanfare. Restaurants along the waterfront sold champagne brunches to those wanting to watch the demolition in style. Others kept vigil outside in the cold.

There’s no protocol for mourning the demise of a concrete chunk, and approximately zero bridge bereavement professionals. But the built environment is an intimate part of our everyday lives, and many feel the need to mark significant changes to that landscape. The explosive nature of the Tappan Zee’s demise lent the event an excitement unusual for a weekday morning in sleepy Tarrytown. And the timeline of the bridge’s destruction—it closed back in 2017 and its replacement, a twin cable-stayed behemoth named for former governor Mario Cuomo, is already operational—meant the grieving period had long been closed. Commence the cork-popping.

The Tappan Zee.

The Tappan Zee.

The Alaskan Way Viaduct demands a different kind of funeral. Like much of America’s aging infrastructure, the two-story bridge was built in the 1950s. When the 2001 Nisqually earthquake rocked the city, engineers realized the viaduct’s skeletal frame looked frightening because it was. The replacement effort began in earnest in 2013 and while few wanted to keep the decrepit structure, the rapid change Seattle has undergone in recent years makes even the ugliest vestiges of the old city seem worth holding tight. Coupled with the prolonged dissection of the condemned structure and the three week lapse in services until the replacement tunnel opens, and you’ve got a public water works waiting to happen.

True to form, Seattlelites took solace in music: I found no fewer than three melancholy Spotify playlists commemorating the closure. Each soundtrack included a mix of demolition bops (“Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus), farewell standards (“Closing Time” by Semisonic), and development blues (“Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell). But perhaps the most poignant was the aptly-named track “Viaduct” by Minus the Bear. “Remember the night when / We came home? / Oh, a long time gone,” the singer asks over and over again. The answer appears to be yes. In fact, we even remember the road.