Earthquakes are caused by the release of tectonic strain accumulated between events. Recent advances in satellite geodesy mean we can now measure this interseismic strain accumulation with a high degree of accuracy. But it remains unclear how to interpret short-term geodetic observations, measured over decades, when estimating the seismic hazard of faults accumulating strain over centuries. Here, we show that strain accumulation rates calculated from geodetic measurements around a major transform fault are constant for its entire 250-year interseismic period, except in the ∼10 years following an earthquake. The shear strain rate history requires a weak fault zone embedded within a strong lower crust with viscosity greater than ∼1020 Pa s. The results support the notion that short-term geodetic observations can directly contribute to long-term seismic hazard assessment and suggest that lower-crustal viscosities derived from postseismic studies are not representative of the lower crust at all spatial and temporal scales.