South Park Bridge: Closure-planning session; mayor re: money

More developments today as the South Park Bridge – a lifeline not just for its namesake community, but also for many people in south West Seattle and White Center who use it – nears the county’s planned June 30th shutdown date:

For one, more than two dozen representatives of government agencies gathered this morning in South Park for the first of at least two sessions to strategize the closure plan. Also, we’ve gathered some updates on the quest for money to build a new bridge.

Those first: After the closure meeting this morning, county rep Andrew Glass Hastings spoke with WSB about what’s being done to find money for a new bridge. He said a “stakeholders’ meeting” is being assembled for mid-April and said the project will certainly require a “different level of partnership” from entities including the city of Seattle – in other words, some monetary contribution.

But will the cash-strapped city even consider chipping in money toward the project’s $100 million-plus cost, money the county has been unable to find for years? Shortly after the South Park meeting, we put the question to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, as he hosted media reps in his conference room for one of his periodic roundtable chats:

(If you can’t take two minutes to watch the clip – or are unable to – his answer boiled down to: The city doesn’t HAVE money to chip in, but maybe we should all look at our regional priorities, considering, for example, the Port of Seattle is getting ready to raise $300 million to chip in on the “proposed bored tunnel.”)

Given what the mayor said – will the port consider a contribution? Port commissioner Gael Tarleton was visible and vocal at both South Park Bridge community meetings two weeks ago (WSB coverage here and here). We’ll be checking with her. Meantime, read on for toplines — and maps — from the multi-agency closure-plan meeting this morning:

The meeting was held at the International Association of Machinists Local 751 union hall in South Park, underscoring the neighborhood’s proximity to Boeing facilities – just across the all-but-condemned bridge. The union’s Larry Brown opened by imploring the county to “think about ways to extend the life of this bridge so that South Park can continue to survive.”

But that wasn’t the focus of the meeting – it was led by King County Roads Division’s Paulette Norman explicitly to gather everyone who will be affected by the bridge’s closure. There were sizable contingents from city, county and state transportation departments, but also from Seattle and Tukwila (which owns half the bridge) police and fire, as well as the Port of Seattle and other scattered entities, even Puget Sound Energy, plus reps from the offices of elected officials including King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, and County Councilmembers Jan Drago and Julia Patterson.

While county leaders noted once again that a study is under way to doublecheck their conclusions that the bridge is in such bad shape it needs to close now, they reiterated that they have very little expectation those conclusions would be disproven – and in fact, county Roads Division chief Linda Dougherty acknowledged, the study firm was tasked with “confirming” that assessment.

She also reiterated key bridge facts – its 20,000 daily vehicles, 14 percent related to freight, and the fact the U.S. Coast Guard requires its demolition after closure, so that vessels can keep getting through. One point we hadn’t seen before: While the “movable spans,” which are to be permanently opened after the 7 pm June 30th permanent closure, would be scheduled for removal next year, the rest of the South Park Bridge wouldn’t be scheduled for “removal and cleanup” before 2015, assuming money for a new bridge is NOT found. (And if it is, the presentation warned, construction will take up to 3 years.)

The most significant new information presented at the meeting came in the form of maps showing projections for traffic congestion after the closure. Most relevant to people on the west side of the Duwamish, the double-span 1st Avenue South Bridge will be jammed. The county showed how the level of service would change; right now, that bridge in some time slots is rated “D,” but post-closure will go to “F.” Here’s the sequence of maps – an overview, then the AM and PM breakouts, before/after:

How to help people cope with that? Signal changes, signage with advance warnings, rider alerts at bus stops all were suggested.

Several key agencies got the chance to send reps to the mike to explain what they’re talking about so far, with three months to go till the scheduled bridge shutdown: SDOT’s Eric Widstrand discussed Seattle’s concern to support the message “South Park is open for business,” even with a drop in traffic through the neighborhood, particularly to the business district that stretches south from the bridge. At the 14th/Cloverdale intersection (map), he says “opportunities” presented by the bridge closure include the lifting of peak-hour parking restrictions – street parking might be allowed 24/7.

The state’s concern includes signal coordination at Cloverdale/509 and Holden/509 (both east and downslope from West Seattle), neither of which has much room to accommodate more traffic.

Metro talked about the routes that’ll be affected – 60, 131, 132, 134. They’re “still looking at reroute options.”

Serious concern was voiced by Seattle Fire Department assistant chief Bill Hepburn: “The closure of the bridge is going to create some pretty significant challenges for us for fire protection in South Park.” While SP has its own station, the challenge comes when there is an incident requiring a sizable response, such as a structure fire; backup comes from Georgetown, SODO and Beacon Hill, Hepburn said, and will have to take what is bound to be a congested 1st Avenue South Bridge. The congestion isn’t the only concern – so is the fact it’s a drawbridge, and one that is “slow … going up and back down,” as Hepburn described it. The fire-response situation may affect West Seattle, as they may have to draw more frequently on Highland Park’s Station 11, whose crews would not have to cross the river to get to South Park, but that lengthens the response time.

Southwest Precinct Lt. Ron Rasmussen envisioned police impacts, too. The West Seattle precinct also covers South Park, but increased traffic would be a challenge for them too – as would more collisions, caused by more traffic trouble.

Norman then laid out what the county expected to have to put together – bridge closure plan, traffic-operations modification, detour plan, transit-reroute plan, emergency services, school bus routes. It was suggested that “communications plan” be added to the list. The public might be getting mixed messages, some noted, with the study under way that MIGHT show the bridge could stay open, and with neighborhood residents holding onto hope that would be the case.

KCDOT’s Dougherty promised they would communicate that they “have to plan for the worst-case scenario … We’ll work on trying to put that study in context better, that the most likely scenario is closure.”

Then came the question: So, with this entire meeting devoted to closure planning, there’s still no plan for funding?

Norman replied, “A lot of efforts – that hasn’t stopped.”

That wasn’t enough to allay a concern that the message of closure planning is that the county might be “giving up forever” on getting a replacement bridge.

Meantime, here’s the timeline for what’s next:

-Mid-April, draft closure plan
-Mid-April, (per Andrew Glass Hastings – this wasn’t part of the meeting itself) stakeholder discussions re: funding
-Late April, 1st public meeting on the closure plan
-May, the study on the bridge’s condition is expected
-Early May, 2nd meeting to coordinate agencies (today was the first)
-Late May, 2nd public meeting
-June 30th, bridge scheduled to close permanently to vehicle/pedestrian traffic, 7 pm, with the spans then opened for vessels and staying that way till they’re removed in 2011

23 Replies to "South Park Bridge: Closure-planning session; mayor re: money"

  • sophista-tiki March 24, 2010 (8:22 pm)

    This sucks, we’re basically screwed, traffic in this town gets worse every year because who ever is making descions about what projects get done apparently are NOT the same people that have to drive from A to B. If this bridge was located in an upity priviledged neighborhood You bet there would be plenty of money for a new bridge with no down time.

  • CB March 24, 2010 (8:44 pm)

    What Mayor McGinn is really saying is infrastructure improvements are not what he and his gang of Sierra Club thugs are all about.

  • South Park denizen March 24, 2010 (9:09 pm)

    Bus riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians are the stepchildren in this process.

    A much better plan can be made for bus service than having all South Park routes go over the 1st Ave Bridge and twist through northern South Park. But Metro is showing no inclination to put any brain energy into the process.

    We could have the 128 bus route continue straight on Roxbury/Olsen/Cloverdale through South Park and thereby provide South Park its first one-seat connection to a whole lot of West Seattle, plus a one-seat connection to Tukwila light rail station. The 22 and 23 could shift their turnaround streets over to 4th/8th/and-or/12th Ave SW to give the eastern White Center streets currently served by the 128 their first one-seat ride downtown. Getting Metro staff to consider new ideas is an uphill battle, though.

    I can’t help but sense that there is a way to keep the bridge open for pedestrian and bike traffic, but that the topic is drowned out by automobile planning. Is it really that difficult to simply rope off the non-sidewalk portion of the bridge? Keeping a foot bridge open would be a boon to the restaurants that depend on the Boeing lunch crowd, as the newly-cul-de-saced 16th Ave S off of E Marginal Way could be converted into parking for the South Park Historic District.

    If footbridging the bridge really is impossible from an engineering standpoint, and not merely a victim of politics, then how much would it cost to put together a foot bridge of sufficient height to enable Boeing employees and route 124 riders in South Park to walk across to their jobs or the 124 bus stop?

    In addition to various governmental entities (which should include the City of Seattle, since a majority of people who use the bridge are Seattleites), one other group should step up to the funding plate for replacing the automobile bridge: automobile drivers who will use the bridge. Installing tolling should be cheap. Drivers who use the bridge shouldn’t expect it to be a freebee that will be paid for by taxpayers in the far-flung unincorporated areas of the county.

  • South Park denizen March 24, 2010 (9:11 pm)

    While I disagree with the Mayor’s stance here, the only “thug” I see here is CB. Keep on attacking the environmentalists, for all I care. That’s a surefire way for you and your cronies to lose elections.

  • Chad March 24, 2010 (9:38 pm)

    Which year did engineers first report that the South Park Bridge was structurally unsound?

    What has been King County’s combined transportation capital spending since that time? (Compared to $150 mil to replace the bridge)

    What has the City of Seattle spend on transportation capital since that time?

    All City and County mayors, executives, council members, and DOT leaders in office since the bridges deficiencies were discovered need to come and explain to South Park residents WHY the other items that have been funded since then were more important than access to their neighborhood.

    When did it become OK for City leaders to abandon a city neighborhood simply because they refused to annex a sliver of land where the bridge piers sit?

    Chasing state and federal money after neglecting your primary responsibilites is a sham.

  • ltfd March 24, 2010 (9:58 pm)

    Exactly how would the Mayor of Seattle be able to legally spend Seattle transportation/road dollars on a bridge that resides in Tukwila and unincorporated King County?

  • xo March 24, 2010 (10:32 pm)

    Although annoying to watch – I am amazed you got him on tape for the ‘little west seattle blog’ no less. Watch out Times.

  • Jim March 24, 2010 (10:34 pm)

    Thanks ltfd. I’ve been wondering the same thing.

  • Anon March 24, 2010 (10:37 pm)

    because the mayor doesn’t know what his job is.

  • ltfd March 24, 2010 (10:37 pm)

    An additional ladder truck is being added to Fire Station 11 in West Seattle (16 Ave SW/SW Holden St) beginning May 1, 2010. Though this temporary increase in resources was already planned due to the closure of the 1 Ave S onramp during the West Seattle Bridge construction, it will help with Fire Department responses to South Park too.

    The temporary placement of Ladder 13 ensures that adequate/timely fire department resources are available in West Seattle for larger, more complex incidents; this will be even more important when (if?) the South Park Bridge closes permanently.

    The ladder truck will provide 4 firefighter/EMTs and equipment for fire, rescue, and emergency medical responses. The temporary (at least at this point) stand-up of Ladder 13 is provided for by SDOT, as part of the mitigation of West Seattle Bridge construction impacts to West Seattle.

  • WSB March 25, 2010 (2:54 am)

    ltfd, I will research before suggesting a definitive answer. However, generalizing wildly, and without specific citations at the moment, I seem to recall situations in which, if something is deemed to be in one jurisdiction’s best interest, even if not belonging to said government/entity/whatever, it can certainly contribute to that “something,” with appropriate approvals.
    The city and port are on the hook to contribute to the Viaduct replacement, for example, though that’s a state-owned highway (albeit one within city limits). If there is a specific SMC prohibiting Seattle money from being spent on something like the SP Bridge, I would have expected to see it cited by now.
    xo, it wasn’t a matter of “getting” – This is the second informal news conference (theoretically a “brown-bag” lunch chat although nobody brings lunch – the mayor had one today but didn’t open it) to which WSB has been invited. We’re credentialed media and wind up downtown for mayor/council/court type events at least a few times a month. We get the alerts about other media availabilities, but if they’re not for an issue of particular regional interest like this one, we don’t always go
    I don’t know if Seattle’s other neighborhood-news organizations (online or otherwise) have been invited to the mayoral “brown-bags,” but haven’t seen anyone from any of them at either one of these. Our “neighborhood” spans a huge chunk of the city, fwiw.
    Others there today included staffers from at least five citywide organizations – the Times,, PubliCola, The Stranger, and one of the radio stations. Just so happened it was scheduled at 12:30, an hour after I left South Park, and since the county rep with whom I was speaking in SP suggested a city contribution, I asked the mayor about it – TR

  • Scott March 25, 2010 (8:39 am)

    I’m not sure how replacing existing, vital infrastructure qualifies as “improvement”; it’s just trying to maintain the status quo. There has been a functioning bridge here for 80 years and many of us have gotten rather used to it. There is no question that it needs fixing or replacing, and it can’t be left as a pedestrian path because the main problem is with it going up and down. This little part of the world simply lacks the political and economic clout to get funding for a new bridge. The idea of a toll is a good one.

    This is a done deal. There will be much yelping and hand-wringing but the bridge will shut at 7:00 p.m. on June 30th, with no plans or funding in place to build a new one. Like blocking a trail of ants in the garden, people will find other ways to get where they are going but it will be messy, expensive, disruptive and annoying. To echo the opening comment at the top, this sucks and we’re basically screwed.

  • Susi Arendt March 25, 2010 (9:58 am)

    I moved to South Park to be able to walk to work at Boeing. What is a fifteen minute walk across the bridge will be a definite hardship; what will Metro do, why isn’t SP considered as an up and coming neighborhood like Georgetown, is there a petition to sign??? How about a water taxi service across the toxic river? Some entrepreneur oughtta apply for a license!

  • Liz March 25, 2010 (11:14 am)

    As you know, the issue of the South Park Bridge and the low level of interest it has received from Seattle is an important part of the anenxation discussion in White Center and the rest of North Highline. Please post a link to it on the White Center Now blog. Thank you.

    • WSB March 25, 2010 (11:30 am)

      Liz, I’m catching up with crosslinks this morning, thanks.

  • Noemie Maxwell March 25, 2010 (11:18 am)

    Thanks for this info-packed story.

    I just moved to this neighborhood. Seeing no deliberate neglect …

    this nevertheless looks remarkably similar to that “same old story” — where the needs of neighborhoods where higher numbers of poor people live are somehow at the very bottom of the priorities.

  • whatevercathy March 25, 2010 (11:54 am)

    somebody voted for this fool, but it wasn’t me. And we thought Nickels was bad? We haven’t seen anything yet.

  • slc March 25, 2010 (12:48 pm)

    Okay, so we’re going to shut down a bridge that’s the only real alternative to the viaduct for getting from White Center into downtown (short of driving 5 miles East to sit in traffic on I-5). THEN, we’re going to bugger up the viaduct by building a tunnel with no exit downtown – even for transit. In the meantime, Metro keeps selling off slivers of the Meyers Wy/Olsen Pl. Park & Ride (the only one – with only 98 spots – in or near White Center and South West Seattle) and we get busses to downtown only every 35 minutes or so. Shame on me for trying to buy a house closer into the city – I should’ve moved to Lynnwood where I could’ve had busses every 7 or 8 minutes during peak. Shame on me for trying to leave less footprint and not support sprawl.

    This is turning into a crisis, folks!!! The tunnel issue was already a nightmare and now this?!?!? I thought the alternate route planned for the viaduct was 4th Ave. Does that only count if you’re North of the W.S. Bridge?

    Since I live in the (red-headed stepchild) unincorporated part of North Highline, unfortunately I didn’t get to vote – for the mayor, for a functional deep-bore tunnel, for anything that only is put up for a vote to those within the Seattle city limits. This is just crazy. People in Laurelhurst and Madison Park got to vote down my only way to get to work and I didn’t get a say in it at all!

    Ugh – I wish I could afford to sell my house and move north where I could be treated like a tax-paying citizen…

  • DRG March 25, 2010 (12:58 pm)

    Do the Effects of Closure maps also take into account the expected increase in traffic on the 1st Ave South Bridge from the upcoming West Seattle Bridge on-ramp closure? If not, expect the congestion to be even worse than predicted.

  • dsa March 25, 2010 (6:27 pm)

    What upsets me with the McGinn clip is his we are broke, and his look to others for help attitude.

    I strongly feel this approach torpedoes the network of stakeholders that are gathering to secure replacement bridge funding. Seattle should be a player.

    The South Park Bridge clearly ties Seattle and King county residences and commerce. One depends on the other. Anyone who has doubts if the is justification for using Seattle funds needs to look at a map. It’s an easy sell for those who do these things. BTW, remember when Snohomish CT started operating in King county? Nobody complained. Funds are used cross jurisdiction all the time when warranted.

    As I was saying about the mayor’s attitude spoiling everyone else’s good efforts:
    Who, or what agency would want to offer up cash to benefit Seattle, when Seattle’s own mayor would rather look the other way.

    His attitude should have been more in line with something like saying it will be difficult, but the city will do everything to absolutely make reconstruction happen.

  • Scott March 26, 2010 (8:18 am)

    Kind of interesting that the planned closure is on June 30, which happens to be the end of the fiscal year. Do I smell budget rats? The bridge does need work, but it would be a real slap if the reason for closing it is to help balance some ineffective bureaucrat’s budget. Why will it be safe for passage at 6:59 on June 30, but not at 7:01? If it is unsafe, close it now. If it is not unsafe, leave it open.

    • WSB March 26, 2010 (9:34 am)

      Actually, it hasn’t been hidden that this is a budget thing – they expected that they would need to close the bridge, so they didn’t budget maintenance money beyond June 30. What they’d do if the consultant’s report somehow shows it COULD stay open – haven’t asked that yet.

  • Southee March 28, 2010 (12:05 pm)

    “At the 14th/Cloverdale intersection (map), he says “opportunities” presented by the bridge closure include the lifting of peak-hour parking restrictions – street parking might be allowed 24/7.” Hilarity! Like saying it’s good to be unemployed because of all the free time. Who are these brain surgeons?
    I like the idea of a river ferry short-term. The County and City should pay for that plus dedicated buses to transport people on either side. Metro and the City must devise a rather radical plan to get people in and out of here. That is going to mean dedicated bus service in dedicated lanes. In the longer term, a light rail line should be built straight down the throat: 4th Avenue South and the Burien Freeway (Burien is up and coming, if you had not noticed) and then to Southcenter, Renton, and beyond, in other words, a train that does not wind all over the place and skip important destinations. Time for McGinn to show off his big brain.

Sorry, comment time is over.