South Park Bridge closure meeting: “Have you learned any lessons?”

(Photo by Briana Watts)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

“This really, really, really sucks.”

South Park resident Lora Suggs summed up in five words the prevailing mood at tonight’s South Park Bridge draft-closure-plan meeting.

The meeting was supposed to be about explaining the newly released draft plan for helping people get around and helping businesses stay afloat once the deteriorating bridge closes June 30.

But when public-comment time kicked in, it was more like venting – both at the mike and from the audience, demonstrating the community’s indignation that the situation has even come to this.

One woman said she had bought her home in Boulevard Park in 1978, at which time, “I was told the South Park Bridge needed to be retrofitted and replaced. My (child) was 5. He’s 37 now. Why are we sitting here today and why wasn’t this taken care of sooner?”

King County Department of Transportation Director Harold Taniguchi had no easy answer. Besieged repeatedly by audience calls of “how did this happen? why did this happen,” he finally had to say, “We are at where we are at. If we had 32 years to put a funding plan together – we didn’t do it.”

Some community culpability was acknowledged in the middle of a fiery 5-minute speech by Christina Gallegos. Listen to it – as she addresses almost every topic that came up tonight, with clarity as well as fury.

Taniguchi’s response, plus highlights of the draft closure plan – including West Seattle effects – and the search for money for a new bridge, after the jump:

Opening the meeting at the International Association of Machinists Local 751 union hall in South Park, facing a triple-digit crowd, Taniguchi said, “We are here to confirm that (the bridge) is closing.” Though the county does not yet have the final copy of one last assessment of the bridge’s condition, Taniguchi said nothing they’ve heard as a progress report indicates that the bridge is fit to stay open any longer. (The county budget does not include funding for its operation beyond June 30th, so that is the arbitrary date decided for its closure. Even if money to cover the $100 million-plus price tag of the new bridge is assembled this year, the county says it would take about 3 years to build the replacement.)

KCDOT’s Paulette Norman, who led a meeting we covered a month ago with representatives of affected agencies, walked the crowd through highlights of the draft closure plan before the public comment got hot and heavy. The draft plan is now on the county website – you can see it in its entirety here.

Though it promised to address business impacts – South Park business owners fear that the shutdown of the bridge will sever their lifeline to customers from outside their tiny community, especially restaurants that have depended on lunch trade from the Boeing facilities across the Duwamish – those who spoke at the meeting wanted to see more. Instead of loans, one suggested, business owners should get outright grants.

One particularly upset entrepreneur who spoke at the two meetings we covered last month in South Park – (March 9 and March 10) – was there again tonight, 76 station/Subway shop owner Gurdev Singh (photo left). He pointed out the incongruency of the city shutting down major South Park streets for months of road work not that long ago – why couldn’t that have waited until the bridge closed?

Taniguchi acknowledged, as had other county officials at previous meetings, that they did a bad job of letting people know about the June 30th closure plan, once the decision was made. He deflected a question about exactly when that decision was made, but admitted it was “undercommunicated.” In response to Gallegos’ question (as seen in our video clip above) about whether an lessons have been learned, he insisted the county had learned a lesson about effective public communication, and a lesson about how to put together financing plans for this kind of project.

Back to the proposed closure plan itself, which the county says will be honed with the comments made tonight as well as those that come in through other channels, and brought back in final form in a month. Many of those at the meeting were not willing to accept that the closure of the South Park Bridge means no alternative for crossing the Duwamish aside from taking the already-busy 1st Avenue South Bridge.

What about Boeing’s bridge at 102nd? they were asked. While Norman acknowledged it was privately owned but not closed to the public, it also was not mentioned as a factor in the detour plan, and some expressed surprise at that. One attendee suggested that driving to the Spokane Street Swing Bridge – West Seattle’s “low bridge” – would be an acceptable alternative for some who need to cross the Duwamish. Others suggested a foot ferry be set up to at least keep pedestrian traffic flowing across the bridge at South Park, and one person insisted a temporary bridge would be feasible. Taniguchi said they’d “looked into that” but that the federal managers of the waterway apparently would not grant a permit. The temporary-bridge proposer kept mentioning that such bridges were put up in a matter of hours in the MIddle East’s war zones, so should be an easy bet for the Duwamish River. Taniguchi allowed that they would take another look.

Public-safety leaders were asked about the plans in place for them to serve South Park without the bridge. Southwest Precinct Lt. Ron Rasmussen said they weren’t expecting to have many effects, since South Park is served by his precinct, which is on the same side of the river since it’s here in West Seattle.

The Fire Department, however, is another situation, since the Duwamish splits a battalion, and the loss of the bridge means some of the units that respond to major incidents will not be able to cross as quickly. Part of the solution for that, Assistant Chief Bill Hepburn explained, would be the new ladder truck to be based temporarily at Station 11 in Highland Park. Ladder 13 – originally intended as mitigation for the fact that Viaduct work would hamper crews responding from SODO – is to be based at Station 11 starting in May, according to the draft bridge-closure plan. He also said that crews from Station 32 in The Junction might wind up going to South Park more often, and if a situation is really difficult, Airlift Northwest might wind up picking up a patient in South Park to get them quickly to Harborview Medical Center on First Hill.

The closure plan got even more granular, with some planned intersection changes, including a signal at South Cloverdale and 1st Avenue South, southbound on the ramp to Highway 509 – right now, that is controlled only by a stop sign.

Many comments that focused on the plan’s specifics took aim at the reroutes proposed for three Metro routes – 60, 131 and 134. Route 60 is the busiest one to be affected – here’s the map you can see in better detail by downloading the full draft closure plan:

Speakers suggested the county was underestimating how much extra time it would add to have to use the 1st Avenue South Bridge. One suggested that the wrong routes were under consideration, proposing that the 128 should be routed to serve South Park.

Getting people to drive to South Park, even if they could not so easily drive through, was the focus of the plan’s section dealing with helping businesses cope. The plan suggested that ideas be pursued such as marketing South Park as a “unique destination,” trying to get major businesses to arrange for catering so that South Park restaurants could deliver lunch to the people who used to simply walk or drive across the bridge that’ll soon be out of commission, putting directional/informational signs along area roads.

Signage was discussed several times during the night – Paulina Lopez pleaded with the county to make sure that signs about the impending closure, some of which are apparently going up tomorrow, are in more than just English, considering the fact there are so many speakers of other languages in the area.

But the main interest seemed to be, how they would get money for a new bridge, and even whether the search for that money would remain a priority once the current one closes. Taniguchi went through a long and relatively complex list of some possibilities – mentioning along the way that a Transportation Benefit District could impose a $20 license-plate fee to raise some money, and saying a sales-tax increase could be another possibility. He also noted that $18 million trumpeted by the Puget Sound Regional Council about a month ago can’t be counted on just yet because it’s reportedly stalled in legislation in the U.S. Senate.

Taniguchi also sought to point out that at least the design and property acquisition for the bridge were funded, “so we are ready to go (when full funding is found).”

Skepticism permeated some people’s comments, though: One man said flat-out he doesn’t believe the bridge is dangerous. Another one said, “If the (Alaskan Way) Viaduct is an emergency, why is it still open?” when the South Park Bridge is scheduled to imminently close. There was also bitterness – lingering bitterness over the downtown project (“Mercer Mess”) that got federal funding in the same round during which the South Park Bridge was denied, and bitterness over other projects in which people in the area feel they got all of the trouble and none of the benefit – one man talked about the 11th Legislative District being bisected by light rail, without having a stop to use to access it.

And gas-station owner Singh voiced a bitter complaint he offered at one of the March meetings – that he pays plenty of taxes on his business, including hefty gas taxes, and yet when his community needs the government to build something, the money can’t be found: “If they are using (the money) right, this bridge won’t be the problem!”
He also didn’t feel the government is moving fast enough: “They just stand there and say ‘we are planning’ – yes, planning to close the South Park Bridge and not survive, anybody! … You guys are going to shut that bridge and walk away!”

KCDOT’s Taniguchi insisted, “This is different from before – we have a new County Executive, and Dow (Constantine) is making this a priority.”

Someone called from the audience, “It wasn’t his priority (as a county council member representing the district), why is it now?” (Current District 8 County Councilmember Jan Drago was at the meeting for a while, but didn’t stay till the end, and did not address the crowd. Another speaker expressed pointed disappointment at the absence of any elected officials – Drago was appointed to the job – particularly Seattle City Councilmembers.)

And another audience member demanded to know what the government officials would do to help Singh “keep his business.” No easy answer forthcoming, a man called out to the business owner, “Let me summarize … you’re screwed.”

Singh was still at the mike. “Nothing is unfixable in this world. Everything can be fixed. This bridge CAN be made safe for the public from the money you guys have put away.”

The county contends that’s not so, that there is no way to fix it and extend its life. But still, “Why can’t you leave it open?” a woman shouted out. A man in the front row turned and said, “It’s falling apart.” The woman retorted, “I don’t care, so’s the (Alaskan Way) Viaduct, but it’s still open.”

In the end, there was just one consensus, the words used by a city rep: “This is a crisis.” And two months remain for South Park and those who govern it to figure out how those who depend on the bridge will survive its shutdown.

What’s next: Another “all-agency coordination meeting” – like this one on March 24 – is set for May 11. Two weeks after that, the final closure plan is to be presented at a May 25 meeting (again at 6 pm at the Machinist Union Hall), and the county says a mailer about that meeting will go to “all households in the South Park, White Center, Boulevard Park and Georgetown areas. As for the funding search, there are key dates coming up in summer and fall.

28 Replies to "South Park Bridge closure meeting: "Have you learned any lessons?""

  • JSR April 28, 2010 (12:14 am)

    You tell them, Christina! I love that gal.

  • Mookie April 28, 2010 (12:51 am)

    Thank you for such a descriptive and comprehensive report of the meeting!

  • Michael April 28, 2010 (12:56 am)

    I’m hearing pretty much the first three stages of grief here: anger, denial and bargaining.
    As far as it being a “crisis” requiring “survival,” not so sure there. Those are pretty charged words. People will survive with a longer drive – as Singh himself said, “everything can be fixed.”

  • sophista-tiki April 28, 2010 (6:25 am)

    Notice how the one agency who can give permission for a temp. bridge is no where to be found. Bottom line – they dont give a crap about South Park. The assorted government entities thought they could just quietly get away with neglecting this bridge and no one would say anything about it. The city seems to be stuck on the funding for the bridge maintenance ending on June 30. so…. extend the funding! DUH! I still say the whole ” its unsafe” line is bulls@#t. Other bridges of similar age in better neighborghoods were magically saved. Traffic is this town already sucks and its just going to keep getting worse. It doesn’t matter which way you decide to drive to avoid issues. Every 5 feet there’s a street closure, construction, bridge up, train, screwed up traffic light, or some idiot looking left while driving right. Not everyone can ride their bike all over town. Not everyone can haul lumber, give people rides, deliver food bank groceries to shut- ins, take dogs to the park, or carpool kids to school on their frikin bike! AND spend all day driving around a bridge closure to get it done.

  • CB April 28, 2010 (6:49 am)

    Um… how come the Mayor does not care about this?

  • ltfd April 28, 2010 (7:04 am)

    1. CB, you are obviously a very intelligent individual.

    2. From the Draft Bridge Closure Plan, “Over the past decade, King County has worked hard to assemble the funding necessary for a replacement bridge.” Not so much, apparently.

  • sam April 28, 2010 (7:23 am)

    thanks for the article.

    I can’t believe the Seattle Times doesn’t have anything on this meeting, an important issue. they don’t even have a link to this (that I can see for now).

  • MTM April 28, 2010 (7:29 am)

    I might consider voting for her for mayor next time around.

  • Aim April 28, 2010 (7:42 am)

    This is absolutely effing ridiculous. To leave an entire community without reasonable, quick emergency services by cutting off the fastest entrance/exit? Unforgivable. To destroy businesses, especially in this economy? Incomprehensible.

    As mentioned above, the viaduct has been falling apart for years, and we’re all still driving on it (though some of us avoid it…) Why can we not find a way to QUICKLY build a new bridge while allowing the current one to stay open temporarily?

    WA State DOT is just as at fault as everyone else. They are so incredibly slow in the way they build roads around here – if we were in almost any other state, the myriad of projects that are currently dragging on and on would have been done in a couple of months, and we’d have time and funding to devote to this.

    And for Drago not attending the entire meeting when she was assigned to this? I will absolutely remember the lack of give-a-sh!t when she runs for any office.

    In short, I’m pissed. And clearly I’m not the only one.

  • toddinwestwood April 28, 2010 (9:10 am)

    Hey South Park, sorry we spent the money on making Mercer a tree lined blvd and a choo choo train for one of the world’s richest men’s South Lake Union development, also know as (Paul) AllenTown.

  • sm April 28, 2010 (9:44 am)

    Hey South Park, sorry we spent the money on changing Fauntleroy to one lane with bike and turn lanes.

  • flynlo April 28, 2010 (9:45 am)

    My favorite line from the SPBClosurePlanDraft:

    “The City of Seattle will perform structural testing of pavement on street segments that will experience increased bus traffic to determine the length of time buses will be allowed to use these segments.”

    And when they have destroyed those streets?…

  • sam April 28, 2010 (10:32 am)

    flnlo- they will come and fill the dozens of potholes every couple of weeks, a la SW Orchard Street, from Dumar Way SW to SW Myrtle

  • amy April 28, 2010 (10:39 am)

    I find this disgusting. How is it ok to cut off this neighborhood and let 30 years pass with no plan to replace and repair?

  • wseye April 28, 2010 (11:13 am)

    The South Park Bridge replacement would have been already funded and under construction if misguided ideologues like Mike McGinn hadn’t opposed RTID because of rabid opposition to cars.

  • Sargon Bighorn April 28, 2010 (11:49 am)

    It’s FAR more patriot to go to war and build schools and bridges in countries America drops bombs on (currently Iraq and Afghanistan) than it is to build them in South Park. So until such time as you call your law maker and tell them Patriotism starts at home, Iraq and Afghanistan will be getting the new bridges, schools, roads, and hospitals.

    Stop the whining and start demanding from the Federal Government that America needs some new bridges too. But you’re NOT getting BOTH Wars and Bridges so you will have to choose.

  • Kayzel April 28, 2010 (12:03 pm)

    Excellent reporting, WSB, on a grim situation. And Christina Gallegos is absolutely right on.

  • Aim April 28, 2010 (1:01 pm)

    wseye, really? So you’re saying McGinn has been the roadblock on getting this bridge replaced for 32 years? Didn’t realize he was that big an influence on the city at 21.

  • archie April 28, 2010 (2:56 pm)

    As long as the bridge remains in unincorporated King County, Seattle shouldn’t be held responsible any more than Tukwilla

  • Liz April 28, 2010 (4:57 pm)

    Does Seattle Fire really expect trucks from Highland Park and The Junction to provide adequate protection in South Park? Does someone in Seattle need a map?

  • chas redmond April 28, 2010 (5:50 pm)

    Two things:

    One: You all need to read every word of this plan. Here’s a quote from one section only which I know will probably affect everyone who reads WSBlog:

    “Community Travel time to Boeing Plant using South Park Bridge From South Park 2 to 3 minutes; from White Center 9 to 10 minutes; from Boulevard Park 5 to 7 minutes.

    Travel time using alternative routes for South Park – 7-13 minutes; For White Center – 10 to 12 minutes; for Boulevard Park – 7 to 11 minutes.

    Increase in travel time to Boeing Plant from South Park 5-10 minutes; increase from White Center 1-2 minutes; increase from Boulevard Park 2-4 minutes.

    Note: This travel time penalty is an estimate and can be expected to significantly increase in the future with higher congestion along alternative routes, creating an increase in travel time, overall vehicle miles traveled, and emissions.

    The South Park Bridge closure will increase congestion on the First Avenue South Bridge and at intersections on Tukwila International Boulevard, East Marginal Way, Michigan Street, and the Boeing Access Road, which in turn will increase the potential for accidents on those facilities. WSDOT has identified another location that will be affected by the closure. The intersection of South Park Bridge and South Cloverdale Street and First Avenue South, southbound on the ramp to SR 509, is currently stop-controlled for southbound movement from First Avenue South. There is no control on South Cloverdale Street. This intersection is a route into the South Park neighborhood. In its current configuration, the intersection will not be able to handle much more traffic from the north. Preliminary modeling by the state shows the delay on the First Avenue South approach will increase from 68 seconds to 390 seconds. Since the delay for the southbound to eastbound turn will be significant at South Cloverdale Street, many of these vehicles will probably choose instead to go north on Second Avenue SW and then south on West Marginal Way (SR 99). This will put additional strain on the signal at SR 99 and South Holden Street, which will also see an increase in the northbound to westbound left turn to access northbound SR 509, increasing queues in the northbound direction on SR 99.
    Finally, the South Park Bridge will no longer be an alternate route to take when the First Avenue South Bridge is raised or there is an accident on the roadway. This will increase waiting in lines and the overall delay associated with bridge openings.

    So that’s the one, the two is:

    Write Jan Drago, Write Dow Constantine, Write Chris Arkills, Write your city council and your state and federal representatives and senators. This is only an issue if those who can make things happen feel there is sufficient motivation on behalf of the public to cause them to do the right thing sooner or better. There were a lot of moneyed seats at the Mercer Mess table. From what I’ve heard from our elected leaders, there has not been that much of a groundswell on the issue of the South Park Bridge. Make a Fuss – Christina – You ROCK.

  • Rider & Cager April 28, 2010 (11:34 pm)

    You can go back 32 years to place blame, or you could look at more recent events. It is difficult to fund any $100M bridge these days, but there was funding for this bridge in the Roads & Transit initiative that McGinn, O’Brien, and a bunch of other purists joined with anti-tax nuts to oppose so vocally.

    Has the mayor anything to address to the funding he previously opposed? Was the South Park Bridge the only good road project in the opposed omnibus initiative, or might there have been a few others? What is he going to do about this road, and the other needed roads?

    Sorry, he’s busy blaming the city council for all the budget problems.

  • 22blades April 29, 2010 (10:29 am)

    Leave it open for pedestrians, bicycle, scooter and motorcycle traffic with a park & ride on the east side.

  • @SW April 29, 2010 (1:02 pm)

    Roads & Transit initiative was huge, and terrible in many ways. Just because a few misguided ideologue purists opposed it (as well as plenty of guided pragmatists, not to mention the majority of voters), does not mean they opposed replacing the South Park bridge. Blame the authors of the RTID initiative if you need to blame anyone.

  • Rider & Cager April 29, 2010 (1:27 pm)

    It was more wonderful than terrible in many ways.

    It was a hard crafted compromise that was blown up by purists aligning with neanderthals. All of those roads will eventually be built, including the cross base highway, but at greater expense and without the transit funding.

    Someday, this bridge will be rebuilt (and it is going to be left in the open position, so give up any idea of sneaking across with your bike), but we don’t know when, and neither do the people from the Sierra Club who aligned themselves with the no-tax people. Getting a majority to oppose something is no accomplishment. The kiddies who think the way to gain transit funding is to oppose roads funding really don’t understand how politics work.

    But back the other question; now what Mr. Mayor? Are you working on crafting a new compromise that can fund enough stuff to form a majority, and that won’t get blown up by zealots? Anything at all to say about how you’re going to lead a funding effort for the South Park Bridge?

  • Ali April 29, 2010 (4:48 pm)

    “People will survive a longer drive” . . . Excuse me? What about those of us who don’t have cars? that rely on bus routes . . . which are, OH being rerouted. I get up at 5 in the morning. I’ll have to get up even earlier now because of the reroute JUST TO GET TO WORK ON TIME.

    People will survive. Thanks so very much for your inconsideration, Michael.
    I shouldn’t HAVE to change my whole schedule just because of this. Why wasn’t it fixed when it was a problem? Oh, wait. The rich neighborhoods wanted a pothole fixed, am I right?

  • South Park denizen May 2, 2010 (6:37 pm)

    I believe the mayor and the majority of South Parkers were right to vote down bonds for new road construction that would have driven up future maintenance costs.

    That’s not zealotry. That’s recognition of the reality that we are running out of oil and running out of time to stop global warming.

    The county council would do well to consider a bond issue aimed simply at replacement of decaying infrastructure and expansion of the bus system.

  • Helen in Boulevard Park May 3, 2010 (6:46 am)

    I’ve lived in Boulevard Park and White Center off and on since August 1978, when I moved here as a teen, and I’ll tell you what… the county has never cared a jot about these areas as compared to other “richer” communities. Yeah, let’s go fix Mercer Street. If it caves in, nobody will drown. Never mind an old rickety bridge (and it was in bad shape when I moved here) that goes over the Duwamish needs fixing or replaced. The SP Bridge is probably the most unsafe bridge in the state. Let’s just close it, who care who it impacts? Idiots.

Sorry, comment time is over.