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Currently A Ditch, Seattle's Longest Creek Soon To Be A Stream Again

Gabriel Spitzer
SPU's Jason Sharpley survey's a culvert that will soon be removed to help restore Thornton Creek.

Utility crews are about to take a busy northeast Seattle thoroughfare out of commission for six months.

But in exchange for shutting down five blocks of 35th Avenue Northeast, utilities officials say the neighborhood will get relief from chronic flooding and a very new look for the city's longest creek.

The north and south branches of Thornton Creek converge just east of 35th Avenue. Floodwaters often submerge sections of the street after big storms and can inundate homes, Meadowbrook Community Center and nearby Nathan Hale High School.

In the 1960s the creek was squeezed into channels and culverts that have turned out to be too narrow to handle rainy runoff. Seattle Public Utilities project manager Jason Sharpley said back then managers thought of creeks like this less as waterways, and more as pipes.

“That’s what a lot of them look like: really armored, concrete-lined channels to get the storm water out of the area,” Sharpley said. “We’d like it to look more like a natural creek, so when somebody comes along here, they’ll look out and they’ll see a creek like you’d see up in the Cascades.”

SPU plans to do that by shutting down 35th Avenue for half a year to pull out the old six-and-a-half foot culvert, and replace it with a bridge over a restored creek. They’ll create two acres of floodplain that the creek will meander through, adding habitat for birds, bugs and, they hope, salmon.

The $7.3 million project is one of several underway along Thornton Creek. The road closure begins on Monday.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.