3:30 PM: That slide is the headline from a briefing the mayor and transportation leaders are about to begin.
A short time ago, we and other reporters got a pre-briefing presentation with SDOT leadership so we can present the key points concurrent with the announcement.
The key points: The high-rise West Seattle Bridge, closed for safety concerns 23 days ago, may not be fixable – SDOT “does not yet know” if it is feasible “technically or financially.” If they can fix it, it might last another 10 years, but that still means replacement would be needed a lot sooner than the original 75-year projection. Even if it’s fixable, it won’t be back in use any sooner than 2022.
And here’s the current timeline:
Just to get the bridge shored up so it would be able to be repaired will cost up to $33 million. Where that money will come from, they don’t know yet. Here’s a breakout.
Those are three key slides – here’s the full slide deck from the pre-briefing:
(Added: You can view it in PDF here.)
The first thing they have to do is stabilize a problem separate from, but worsening, the cracking: The locked bearing on Pier 18. We mentioned this in our coverage of Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Alex Pedersen getting an under-the-bridge briefing yesterday. So that has to be fixed first because “the bearings are compressed and bulging, creating additional strain on the whole bridge.”
Could the bridge fail even now, with traffic having been removed? Possibly. They are installing real-time monitoring and developing scenarios for what would be done if that seemed imminent.
Then, the shoring/stabilization of the cracked area. Then – figuring out if it could be fixed so that traffic would be able to use the bridge. Again: “It may not be possible – could be state of the bridge, could be what it would take to fix it.”
A Technical Advisory Panel will be established with experts “in bridge design, construction, working in the water, geotechnical engineering for bridge structures, and marine/maritime expertise” to help inform this work.
And yes, they are working on traffic plans, including having the signal at the Chelan/Spokane/Delridge/West Marginal 5-way “connected to citywide system for remote monitoring adjustment.” The intersection will be repaved. SDOT also will “Stripe, sign, and smooth alternative routes.” They promise they are trying to think about “every creative solution we can.” Says director Sam Zimbabwe, a West Seattle resident: “We want to thank the West Seattle community… this is a big deal and we’re working hard …this is going to be a community conversation.”
From here, we will add notes from the official news conference (which we are also recording so we can add the video afterward).
3:45 PM: We’re still waiting for the news conference to start so here are a few more notes from the pre-briefing:
*As mentioned a few weeks ago, the low bridge needs some work. Some of that will happen soon, including replacement of the pedestrian gate. Look for info shortly on how that will affect traffic.
*Speaking of traffic, SDOT expects the restrictions on the low bridge will last for the entire duration of the high bridge’s closure.
*We asked if they have a system set up for keeping the low bridge from opening for marine traffic if a medical emergency vehicle is headed that way. Nothing automated, but the bridge tender watches for approaching emergency vehicles.
*The scenarios – can it be fixed, what if it can’t be – are “happening in parallel.”
3:48 PM: The news conference is starting, with Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Alex Pedersen as well as reps from other agencies including Metro.
The mayor starts by acknowledging an “enormously frustrating experience for the West Seattle community” and thanking everyone “for their patience.” She says, “I will not allow any car to go over the bridge until it is safe.” The mayor reiterates that they still don’t know the cause of the cracking but the newly disclosed Pier 18 problem has to be addressed first. “We know in the long term this bridge has to be replaced,” she acknowledges. “We’re going to be looking very closely with Metro at ncreasing transit, park-n-rides, water taxi service.” She says she talked with County Executive Dow Constantine today to talk about it. She says the police and fire departments are looking at possible “additional public safety needs” while the bridge is closed. She reiterates that the low bridge will continue to be restricted and urges people not to violate those restrictions; otherwise, “you will get a ticket.”
Speaking next is SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe. He’s going through some of what was presented at the pre-briefing, including the installation of monitoring and the modeling for possible bridge-failure scenarios, though he re-states that failure is not expected. … “We know people living and working in West Seattle need reliable access across the Duwamish (River),” he repeats, recapping some of the changes they’ve made already, including the new Highland Park Way/Holden signal. “We’re working hard to get you where you need to go.”
4:05 PM: Now Councilmember Herbold speaks, calling this a “very difficult turn of events.” She also acknowledges that the disclosure that the bridge will be out of service until at least 2022 moves the conversation into a new phase, for businesses as well as residents. She notes that the Seattle Squeeze lasted 8 months, while this will be longer. She mentions the bridge visit that she and Pedersen made yesterday (which we covered). He’s speaking next (his major role in this is as Transportation Committee chair).
Pedersen calls this a “massive infrastructure project” and notes the Council will have “an important role in oversight.”
In Q&A, the mayor is asked about whether federal funding will be sought. She says she hopes so, and has already spoken to both of our area’s U.S. Senators, especially if infrastructure funding is part of coronavirus-crisis relief.
Why not just proceed to replacement planning if it’s going to take $33 million just to stabilize the bridge? Zimbabwe didn’t entirely answer that.
We asked how the “community conversation” about traffic solutions can be had, in this meeting-less time? The mayor said they’ll work with the council on “virtual town halls … We know this is critical to the community, we need to hear from you. … The ground truth is being felt by the community.” Herbold adds that her office is working in fact on a “virtual town hall” focused on bridge impacts and planning ahead.
We also asked about inter-agency discussions such as whether ferries could be rerouted downtown. Zimbabwe says that while Colman Dock has capacity, now that they know this is going to be a long closure, everything needs to be on the table.
And we asked about whether they are talking with Sound Transit, given that West Seattle light rail was going to need its own new bridge across the Duwamish River anyway. “Yes,” said the mayor, that’s one thing they’d have to look at, though they don’t want to “lose time.”
Last question – a followup on the mayor’s mention of park-and-rides, which the city has frowned on in recent years. “We’re going to have to do more of everything,” said the mayor.
4:27 PM: The event is over. We recorded video and will add that when it’s ready. Also, as we reported earlier this week, note that a briefing for the entire City Council is scheduled for next Monday (9:30 am, should be on Seattle Channel, cable 21 or online).