South Park Bridge, night 2: “Tell us what to do”

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

One thing is clear, after two nights of standing-room-only meetings about the South Park Bridge‘s scheduled June 30 closure – if the residents and businesspeople of South Park could build the unfunded replacement bridge themselves, they would.

The second meeting, organized by South Park Action Agenda at the SP Community Center last night, ended with an attendee pleading with County Councilmember Jan Drago, “Tell us what to do.”

Drago was one of three elected officials in attendance last night – triple that turnout from the night before, at the official county-publicized briefing during the South Park Neighborhood Association‘s regular monthly meeting (WSB coverage here).

She arrived late in the SPAA meeting, taking the chair that her staffer Mike Heavey had occupied on the front-and-center panel. Ironically, her arrival was pointed out by one of the other two, port commission Gael Tarleton, speaking from the sidelines as she had at the SPNA meeting the night before. The third elected official in attendance last night was Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who acknowledged she hadn’t been invited, but had heard about the Tuesday night meeting’s emotion and frustration.

Though translators (for Spanish and Vietnamese) were present for the first meeting, this meeting not only offered Spanish translation, but was virtually a dual-language meeting. Some speakers addressed the crowd in Spanish, translated into English by Paulina Lopez from South Park Action Agenda, who in turn offered Spanish translation over a microphone/headset system when English was spoken to the group.

Lopez also had opened the meeting with the theme of taking action: “We are a strong community – we need to know, how did we get here, and what things we can do as a community … so we can brainstorm all together.”

The meeting began with statements from the panel – which this time also included a federal representative, Sergio Cueva-Flores from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s district staff, as well as repeat appearances (from the night before) by King County Transportation Department Roads Division director Linda Dougherty and, County Executive transportation expert Chris Arkills, and a second city rep in addition to Bagshaw – Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith.

His opening statement was the most electrifying. He paused a moment, almost as if to get emotions in check, and then began. “We’re going to work with you to get this solved. You have every right to be pissed off about this. I’m pissed off too. … I’m not here to tell you NOT to be upset.”

Smith said he has been “on the phone with (SDOT)” to tell them to come up with a “mobility plan as soon as possible” regarding traffic flow when the bridge closes, working in tandem with the county. He promised that the city will keep this on a front burner: “We’ll be with you all the time.”

A similar promise came from Councilmember Bagshaw: “I’ll be here with you.” She said the Puget Sound Regional Council will be committing to supporting $18 million for the project today (we’re checking on that; Drago mentioned it too) and she promised to work with “the mayor’s office, the council, the Port, the city of Tukwila … we’ll make (a new bridge) happen.”

Cueva-Flores, speaking in Spanish and English, said he was there “to listen, to see what the county and city and community action plan is, so I can communicate that to the senator.”

As for the county, Dougherty recapped the situation, on behalf of those who hadn’t been at the preceding night’s meeting. Regarding that meeting, she said, “I learned some things – such as, this is not an arterial bridge, it’s an ARTERY bridge.” She stressed again that the county must “have $108 million in the bank” for the actual replacement bridge before any contract is signed to build it. She also reiterated that the county will proceed to work with every potential jurisdiction involved, including Seattle Public Schools and Metro, as well as with the city and county Economic Development offices, to come up with the “what happens when the bridge closes?” plan. She mentioned that there would be separate meetings for businesses “to talk about what we might be able to do to help with your situation … to understand your business, and where the people who patronize your business come from.”

Dougherty also promised additional general public meetings “to apprise everybody of the planning work we’re doing.”

She was asked about a small bridge “south of Henderson,” and what its role might be in a South Park Bridge-less time; she replied that the city of Tukwila owns it, and “we are going to be taking a look at (it).”

Also from the county, Executive Dow Constantine‘s representative Arkills described the ongoing attempts to get bridge money as a “long, frustrating process,” and insisted that Constantine ” has been and is committed” to solving the problem.

Again at this meeting, the frustration was most clearly expressed by those who spoke about their businesses and families, and what life without a bridge would mean. There was again a sense that South Park is getting the short end of the stick, because of its lack of political and economic clout.

Meeting moderator Juan Jose Bocanegra said, “We can’t wait around to see who’s supportive and who’s not. We’ve got to find out who pulls the purse strings and pull some money down into this community so we can get that bridge, open, safe, for everybody to use … (But) this is an example of what happens to immigrant communities all over – they are neglected, not focused on, everybody cares about them and worries over them, but nobody does anything about them.”

The community itself has work to do as well, he admonished … “There are a lot of divisions in this community; maybe we should be coming together, instead of having two meetings in one week.”

And South Park is not alone in facing major ramifications of the closure. From the sidelines, Georgetown activist Holly Krejci said her neighborhood will be most dramatically affected by the 20,000 vehicles that currently use the SP Bridge. (Krejci noted that she works now for County Councilmember Drago, saying that while she was “disappointed” in Drago’s stance regarding the bridge during the councilmember’s city days, “[Drago] has been an amazing representative for the county and got right on the bridge (situation).”)

From there, more of the South Park voices:

“It is ridiculous to be waiting till the last minute,” chided a man who’d also spoken the night before.

“Why are you investing more money in a (bridge) study?” was the question one woman directed at Dougherty. “It’s a a waste of taxpayers’ money. I take pride in paying taxes because I enjoy the benefits – and the bridge is a benefit.”

Then, an anguished story from a gas-station owner who said that until the meeting the night before, he had been under the impression the South Park Bridge would not close until a new one was ready: “Then they threw that Skylab on us – ‘we’re going to close the bridge’ – not even asking us, how are you guys going to feel? My two kids are ready to go to college, and the bridge is going to close, and my gas station is going to shut down. What are the plans, just shut the bridge and let us die here? I have all my receipts for all the taxes I have paid – where has my tax money gone, if not spent on (South Park)? It’s been spent somewhere – every breath I take is taxed. I’m totally pissed off and sorry and I don’t know what to say. I built the Subway (store) next to my gas station. I have 10 employees. They are going to (be out of work) too. For many other businesses, the same thing – we are crying for a reason, we want to know the plans.”

Another entrepreneur with a similar story – Judy Herrera, the owner of the popular Muy Macho Mexican Grill. “I have invested everything in the business … what am I going to do? You are killing me with the news that you are going to close the bridge.”

A sense of betrayal was expressed by Larry Brown from the Machinists’ Union: “This community has worked hard to build itself up. I was surprised by the closure date – would have thought we’d have had more than a few months’ notice. … To have this fall on us in this fashion feels like a knife in the neck from people we thought of as our friends. … I ask the people who are here, go back to your groups, your bosses, your colleagues, and commit to making sure we have a path forward for this community … now. We cannot wait; this has to happen now. We have to know, how are we going to survive in South Park? The Machinists’ Union will be part of the solution.”

Shortly afterward, it was noted that no one was at the meeting representing state government. “The heck with (the Viaduct) tunnel!” said a woman from the audience, suggesting the money could be better spent on this project.

“Amen to that,” said deputy mayor Smith from the front of the room.

Again, the theme: What specific action will be taken? South Park activist Alma Rivera posed that question to the panelists: “When you go back to your office tomorrow, what will you be doing?” Arkills repeated that his office “has been working on it, we are working on it – we’ve been meeting almost daily.” Smith repeated that he called SDOT earlier in the day and will call them again (today), regarding the mobility plan.

But the clearest voice again rang as port commissioner Tarleton spoke,not from the panel, but from the side of the room. “I love South Park – I didn’t know till I was elected how crucial this community and the Lower Duwamish are AS a community. A place where people live, work, play, bring grandparents to meet kids, participate in Duwamish cleanup day. It’s an amazing place. The most extraordinary part of what we have in front of us is to have the courage to say – THERE WILL BE A BRIDGE.”

As she had done the night before, Tarleton noted that her day job (at UW) is to “write proposals and win money to do work.” She proposed both an interim plan to somehow keep the bridge open – “whatever use is possible, whether there’s a way to use it for emergency vehicles, for bikes and pedestrians, and limited truck access” – and finding the funding plan for the replacement. “We do not have the right to make citizens unable to live in their community. … If we break this bridge, we break this community and break this economy. That will not happen on our watch. That will not happen.”

That drew a long round of applause. Tarleton continued, “Tell your elected officials, City Council, state, whatever, every port commissioner, tell all of us to keep you safe … make them produce the money. .. We are going to fix this this year. We are going to fix this problem.”

By then, Drago (at right with Bocanegra) had arrived, and she had the last words. She mentioned that two Burien City Council members are in D.C. right now and advocating for the bridge; she also said she had written to her former Seattle City Council colleagues and Mayor McGinn.

That is when another voice came from the audience: “Tell US what to do.”

For one, Drago said, when the application goes in for a $30 million federal grant – similar to the $99 million proposal recently rejected – “We will need many, many letters of support.”

But a decision on that funding – which still would be only a fourth of the project’s $120 million-plus cost – is not due until late September, by which time, if the current schedule holds, the South Park Bridge will have been closed for three months. That clearly remains unimaginable for many; as Adrian Moroles had said toward the meeting’s start, “Not having a bridge is not an option.”

17 Replies to "South Park Bridge, night 2: "Tell us what to do""

  • cjboffoli March 11, 2010 (12:17 pm)

    Thanks for the excellent continuing coverage of this dramatic story. I’m not a resident of South Park and don’t really have opportunities to visit this neighborhood frequently, so forgive me if my questions are obtuse, but I wonder why this situation seems to have taken so many (residents and politicians alike) by surprise, considering that it seems there have been reports and studies, from five years back and longer, suggesting that this bridge is not only at the end of its usable life but that it was even flawed when it was new. I’m not intending to suggest fault or blame. Just wondering how such an important-sounding transportation asset managed to fall off the list of priorities.
    Other lingering questions:
    With SR-99 only seven blocks away from the South Park end of this bridge, why is everyone so sure that the closure of this bridge will sound a death knell for the neighborhoods and businesses of South Park. Would experts on urban planning and traffic flows support that assumption?
    Considering that the US Army can on a daily basis span rivers, in warzones with RPG’s flying overhead, is there anything that can be done in terms of a temporary bridge over the Duwamish during the time this bridge is out of commission?
    Lastly, one of these days I’d love to see a price breakdown of why it costs $120 million to build a bridge (or $1 billion to build a mile of runway, for that matter).

  • social justice? March 11, 2010 (12:32 pm)

    “Michael McGinn, a long time volunteer leader at the Sierra Club, has a record of making tough decisions that have made a real environmental difference. His leadership in our campaign to defeat Prop 1, the Roads and Transit ballot measure, prevented the construction of 182 miles of new suburban highways.” –

    Prop 1 provided full funding for the replacement of the South Park Bridge.

    “At 77 years old, the dilapidated South Park Bridge would be replaced if Proposition 1 were to pass. If the measure fails, King County may close it by 2010 or sooner, with traffic shifting over to the already congested First Avenue South Bridge.” – Seattle Times – 2007

  • CB March 11, 2010 (12:36 pm)

    One thing is for sure, the South Park neighborhood won’t be able to count on their Mayor for help on this.

  • CM March 11, 2010 (12:42 pm)

    Regarding the death knell for the businesses, take a good look at a map of the area. Without this bridge, the only access is from the 1st ave bridge, and then winding through the neighborhood. The restaurants and services on 14th do a huge amount of business with the Boeing workers at Plant2. Without this bridge, I would guess almost all of that will go away.

    Besides, on a personal note, the only reasonable detour I can take adds about 2 miles to my 4.6 mile commute. I know it’s not much, but I’ve been spoiled.

    Seriously, take a good look at the map and you’ll realize what a huge impact this will have. Better, swing by Muy Macho for lunch!

  • BL March 11, 2010 (1:15 pm)

    “With SR-99 only seven blocks away from the South Park end of this bridge, ….?”

    Understandable as you have not used this area as your main thoroughfare in and out of your neighborhood. Couple things to note about South Park, we don’t have the same amenities that other neighborhoods have (like grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacy, retail, etc.), so residents must rely on bigger businesses in Beacon Hill, Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Renton, West Seattle, Burien and Tukwila.

    What we do have is small, independent, family-run delis, restaurants and gas stations that thrive on the TRAFFIC that goes from these larger areas into our INDUSTRIAL working areas for work. The restaurants rely on funds from lunch breaks from people across the river (literally right on the other side). Residents of SP can not sustain these businesses by residents alone.

    To further understand the issue with 99, you have to drive it to see what it is like. I’ve never seen or experienced anything like it in any other part of the Puget Sound or Seattle. Drive the route from the 4 separate areas of housing in South Park and then ask that question again. Better yet, drive it between 6-10am and 2-7pm. If you can coincide it with the 1st Ave bridge opening, even better (it takes a long time). The traffic is so hideous here and basically is semi truck owned. Getting through a light to get on 99 from SP is dangerous as well. It doesn’t work right now, so how about adding 20k more vehicles to the daily mess?

    “….temporary bridge over the Duwamish during the time this bridge is out of commission?”

    AGREED! We would even take a temporary pedestrian/bike bridge at this point.

  • rob March 11, 2010 (1:42 pm)

    i don’t think complaining about a 2 mile increase to a 4.6 mile commute due to the loss of a major piece of infrastructure can reasonably be attributed to being spoiled when you consider the money that has been spent to put in trains that make it convenient for people to work in seattle but live all the way down in tacoma.

    think about the effect there would be on your kids’ lemonade stand if you told them to move it off a main street and down to the end of a cul-de-sac. how well would that work out?

    that’s pretty much what is happening here, only the businesses aren’t moving, the street is.

  • charlabob March 11, 2010 (1:47 pm)

    Why didn’t people know this would happen? Well, given Seattle’s track record for, um, taking our time in deciding, redeciding, and undeciding — I can see why the first or tenth time something comes up, people might not react. Same thing is happening now to some extent — I’ve talked with folks who ONLY think this affects the south side — when the creative use of alternative routes begins, a lot of people are going to notice an influx of “strange” cars.

    Great thanks to WSB for their amazing coverage — this is the kind of local news that really does make a difference.

  • Lee Oswald March 11, 2010 (1:58 pm)

    Yes, it is shocking that our city fathers have developed no contingency for this bridge (how can we even consider building all these multi-billion dollar athletic playfields for wealthy season ticket holders).

    This is like Seattle having it pants around its ankles and a wad fluttering in the breeze.

    What other contingencies have been completely neglected?

    Completely inexcusable.

    One major force conspicuously absent, a rep from Boeing–Boeing directly benefitted from that bridge for fifty years, and much of the Boeing truck traffic probably directly contributed to the speed of its deterioration.

    Yes, we are in an economic downturn, but the contingency for this bridge should have been on tap long, long ago.

    Holy moley!

  • Brian March 11, 2010 (2:48 pm)

    I don’t live in South Park but I do live in West Seattle. Doesn’t anyone else remember a few years back when the WS bridge was shut down for a fatality accident durring rush hour traffic? Getting out of WS and trying to get to work took hours! The traffic jam to get out on the 1st ave bridge went all the way down Delridge and 35th. I had a traffic jam on my side street from all of the people trying to take shortcuts. This issue is way beyond just affecting SP as we in WS only really have 2 exits out of our neighborhood and th SP bridge is an intrigal part of the south exit. Remember how you were not interested in the plight of SP the next time the WS bridge is shut down and it takes you 3 hours to get out of your neighborhood. Better yet, stay up north and wait your turn to get across the lower bridge and don’t come down south and add to my traffic issues. Thank you WSB for covering this important WS issue!!

  • geoff belau March 11, 2010 (3:14 pm)

    “I wonder why this situation seems to have taken so many (residents and politicians alike) by surprise, considering that it seems there have been reports and studies, from five years back and longer…”

    I hate to be cynical, but I would say there are many in the neighborhood who HAVE been aware of the issue for quite some time, and have been “howling at the moon” over it for years to anyone who would listen. One major downside to living in SP (or South Seattle as a whole) has to do with demographics. Montlake and Laurelhurst = white, monied lawyers. South Park, Georgetown, and White Center, etc. = mixed, working class “bricklayers” who live next to a Superfund site. Guess who gets the all the press?
    I’m not trying to single out Montlake and Laurelhurst, but it is easy for the rest of the city to ignore those places that they don’t know or see on a regular basis – even if those places take out their garbage, do their laundry, and manufacture their goods. In short, it’s a hard sell until faced with what it might mean to lose it. Have you written to ALL your elected officials, including the Port lately? Please consider doing so. Again, thanks to the WSB for covering this.

  • ltfd March 11, 2010 (3:49 pm)

    “Yes, it is shocking that our city fathers have developed no contingency for this bridge”

    No it’s not, since it is a county bridge, not a City of Seattle Bridge. Additionally, the county has sought funding for this bridge for quite awhile. None has been offered, so the bridge will close (actually, OPEN permanently), and while vehicle traffic will be cut off, boat traffic can pass unimpeded up the river.

  • L March 11, 2010 (5:08 pm)

    when the bridge over the icicle creek in leavenworth was damaged by flooding and deemed unusable, the forest service put in a temporary bridge while a permanent bridge replacement was developed. this was a big metal bridge, sturdy enough to get heavy equipment over to fight forest fires for serveral seasons. when the time came, the forest service reclaimed their loaner bridge. has anyone looked into something like that? i would think the army corps of engineers might have something that could be used…

  • ltfd March 11, 2010 (5:26 pm)

    South Park Bridge: traffic patterns

  • mikep996 March 11, 2010 (5:28 pm)

    Was anyone from the City of Tukwila at the meeting???? After all, the bridge is half in Tukwila and half in King County.

  • greg lomas March 11, 2010 (5:31 pm)

    i have been upriver of the SP bridge , and have had a sailboat at SP marina. At low tide I could get my boat through without having the bridge be raised. There is only one boat yard upstream, the commercial traffic is minimal.Raising the bridge is what destroys it. Keep it in use and only raise it for commercial traffic. The road traffic is far more important. Have a day and time when it will be raised and let every boat that wants to go through at that time. I see lone sailboats having the bridge raised .Keep the bridge open, and only raise it when absolutely necessary and get a new bridge built asap

  • South Park denizen March 16, 2010 (9:56 pm)

    Whatever happens, please, please, please don’t raise the bridge. Keep it open for foot and bike traffic. Is there any reason not to?

  • South Park denizen March 16, 2010 (10:08 pm)

    Could we refrain from disingenuous cheap shots at the mayor? Yes, Buildings and Trades doesn’t like him. But we voters elected him, and it is time for the sour grapes to end.

    If he says he supports replacing the bridge, I’ll believe him. And I’ll trust him before I trust the build-highways-everywhere pushers.

    Buildings and Trades wasn’t there with us when we begged our legislators to provide alternative funding sources to save bus service. Neither, unfortunately, was Sen. Prentice.

Sorry, comment time is over.