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