(View the archived video starting 59 minutes into the clip)
5 PM: One month ago tomorrow, the West Seattle Bridge was suddenly shut down for safety concerns. One week ago today, SDOT announced the bridge will be out of service at least until 2022, and may not be fixable. Tonight, City Councilmembers Lisa Herbold (who represents West Seattle) and Alex Pedersen (who chairs the Transportation Commiitee) are leading a town-hall meeting about the situation; SDOT’s Sam Zimbabwe and Heather Marx are expected to join them, with Seattle Channel’s Brian Callanan moderating. (Datapoint: Everyone mentioned above, except Pedersen, is a West Seattleite.) If you’re among the 3,000+ people who RSVP’d, you should have received a link for questions. We’ll be covering this as it happens, ahead.
Format as announced: Presentation until 5:45, then Q&A. In opening remarks, Herbold promises to work to ensure that SDOT takes constituents’ suggestions seriously, including traffic and oversight as well as about the bridge itself. She says 300 questions have been received already. Pedersen pledges to work closely to “expedite plans for next steps.” Then it’s on to Zimbabwe. Notation on the slide deck indicates it’s the same one from Monday’s City Council briefing, so we’re featuring that below:
Zimbabwe recaps the bridge history and why it was closed, and reiterates that they don’t believe the bridge is in “imminent” danger of collapse. He does, however, advise people to sign up for Alert Seattle just in case.
5:16 PM: Just noticed a change in the slide deck – more details on the cracking right before the bridge’s abrupt closure. “Four feet of growth in two weeks.” Will add screengrabs.
Otherwise, it’s recapping what was explained at the last two briefings (this past Monday and last Wednesday), and what happens next – the Pier 18 repairs, the shoring to stabilize the bridge, the determination of whether the bridge can be fixed.
5:25 PM: Marx now takes over to talk about what’s being done regarding traffic. She first recaps the low-bridge restrictions, and also mentions again that repaving is scheduled this Friday-Sunday for the Chelan/Spokane/Delridge/West Marginal “5-way” intersection at the low bridge’s west end.
New: A “what can you do” slide that pitches SDOT’s various communication channels (here’s the bridge-project website, which includes the email subscription link mentioned). She urges people to start planning for post-stay-home, and to follow the low-bridge restrictions.
5:35 PM: The Q&A begins. Callanan thanks the 3,300 who RSVP’d and 1,800 who are watching the stream. First Q: “Why not proceed immediately with demolition and rebuilding?” Zimbabwe: “We’re working to get the information we need to make that decision … the cost of immediately proceeding to replacement would be (a lot) …we have to stabilize the bridge to maintain public safety. While we (do that), we’re (looking at) those types of questions.”
Q: Is Seattle working with King County to increase water taxi service? Herbold starts the reply: “I’ve had some initial conversations with County Councilmember Joe McDermott” and says she’s talked with State Sen. Joe Nguyen and some port commissioners about the suggestions of involving car-ferry service too. Marx says they’re working with Metro re: buses and Water Taxi for a “full suite” of options. Zimbabwe says he has spoken with WSF and other transportation agencies, all of whom are willing to “roll up their sleves to help.” Despite known constraints, “nobody’s saying no” to any idea, so far, he adds.
Q: What about combining a new bridge with the light rail bridge (that is going to have to be built anyway)? “Nothing is off the table,” replies Zimbabwe, noting that Sound Transit’s light-rail EIS is due next year, but also noting that ST’s construction schedule is not set to start until 2025. Herbold adds that “if we want ST to consider a multimodal bridge in its EIS, the ST board would have to” order that change in their studies, so they’re working on what it would take to make that happen. “It’s possible a bridge could be operational before” the light rail.
Q: Medical worker says his commute’s become a nightmare. What’s being done to help alleviate that? Marx replies that “we will continue to work closely with Metro to ensure transit is robust and available” but reiterates that they can’t add more users to the low bridge because it will quickly become “overwhelmed.” She adds that when SPD isn’t there to enforce, people break the rules and it “creates a really dangerous situation.” What about off-peak? They don’t have enough data yet to know if that’s feasible.
5:46 PM: Q: Were the people who built the bridge available to consult on a solution? Zimbabwe mentions the plan for a Technical Advisory Panel (those slides were not recapped in this presentation). He says that 35+ years have elapsed since it was built so they’re talking to a wide variety of outside experts. “This is a complicated structure, it’s going to be complicated to repair …”
Q: Will private employee shuttles be allowed to use the low bridge? Herbold says she’s been fielding that already – Amazon, for example, had four roundtrips daily. Marx said right now, no, but they’ll continue to “talk with those larger companies. (but) the answers … might be different” post-COVID. (A few minutes later, Zimbabwe explained that they’re monitoring traffic on the alternate routes.)
Q: What is being done for bike routes if the low bridge has to be closed? Are other routes going to be improved? Marx says those are longer-range plans. Herbold mentions the East Marginal Way safety project and says they’re looking at whether any of it could be accelerated.
Q: Could a toll be used to pay for a new bridge? Zimbabwe repeats that “nothing’s off the table” but tolls are complicated but that hasn’t been discussed in any detail. Herbold says she’s meeting later this week with U.S. Rep.. Pramila Jayapal (also a West Seattleite by the way) to talk about federal funding options.
Callanan notes at that point that they’re up to 600 questions.
Q: Just bought a house in West Seattle. How will this affect property values/taxes? Herbold notes the County Assessor is accountable for that but “there may be an opportunity to make that request” as well as an appeal process. Zimbabwe says a few minutes later that they’re working “tirelessly” to restore the traffic capability.
Q: What’s the plan to manage the increase in traffic along Roxbury/Olson, and on Michigan leading to I-5? Marx repeats, “It’s really not an option for everybody who used their car to get to and from West Seattle” to continue to do that – can you do what you can “to lighten the load on the system? … No amount of spot improvements will replace the high bridge.”
6 PM: Q: No hospital in West Seattle – address that. Herbold says the West Seattle Junction Association is working with a health-care provider to see if they might locate “a small hospital” in The Junction. Marx says the lack of a hospital is another reason why keeping the low bridge open for emergency traffic is vital. But she also reminds people that Highline Medical Center is available, to the south.
Q: Why if the cracks were first noted in 2013 was nothing done, or at least, with worsening cracks noticed last year? Zimbabwe repeats that they were not proceeding in a major way for a long time and they were indeed “modeling” and doing some repairs – epoxy – the acceleration happened. He repeats that the acceleration happened “very very quickly.”
Q: Has there been any discussion with Army Corps of Engineers about building a temporary bridge across the Duwamish River? Zimbabwe says the waterway has to remain open to navigation but they’ll “look at every option to accelerate” and “will look at every one of those possibilities.”
Q: Can some RapidRide C buses continue on to Ballard? SDOT is “open” to ideas and working with Metro.
Regarding traffic on neighborhood streets, Marx mentions the lower-speed-limit signs ae being installed along the detour routes. (We had been waiting for a response on SDOT after several people mentioned the sign installation.) She urges people to respect the neighborhoods they’re driving through.
Q: Can the high bridge withstand a moderate earthquake? Zimbabwe says they’re concerned about its stability in normal conditions, so …
Q: Callanan follows up with a question about the condition of the 1st Ave.S. Bridge. It’s newer, Zimbabwe points out. (Editor’s note: We’re working on a story about that – it’s partly newer, one side is from the mid-’90s, one side dates back to the ’50s.)
Q: Can low-bridge maritime openings be halted during commute hours? Marx: No, but the Coast Guard has published a notice asking mariners not to request opening in those times “and we’ve had pretty good luck with that.” Herbold says she understands something “stronger” has been requested, as was used during three weeks of “Squeeze.’ Marx says yes, they have, but they need to do “some significant outreach to the maritime community” to talk about that but emergency-response plans (in case of a high-bridge failure risk) is what they are mostly working on now “with that community.”
Q: What about a bike-to-car space by the low bridge? Marx says they’re looking at that too but they really are stressing, try transit.
Q: Can Roxbury be striped to 4 lanes and create an HOV lane? Zimbabwe says they’re “open to all sorts of ideas.” He notes that they don’t want to “walk back” on Vision Zero safety projects (of which that was one). Herbold says she hears a lot about Roxbury and that her office is compiling detour-route traffic ideas and hopes to map those and break the peninsula into sections to tour detour routes and make specific suggestions. “I just want folks to know how we’re using the information you’re sending me.”
Q: Husband of an expectant mom who will need to get from Alki to First Hill wants to know if they’ll have to use the 1st Ave. S. Bridge. Marx says she can’t imagine a police officer not letting you through. “If your wife is in labor, feel free to use the low bridge.”
Q: The pile-driving question, as answered here previously. No, the work at Terminal 5 is not believed to be a factor – there was no damage to anything even much closer to the project. Herbold says she’s asked port and SDOT to talk about the pile-driving that will resume soon so she wants to be extra-sure it won’t affect the high bridge.
Q: What is a ballpark time range for how long it would take to replace the bridge if that were the only option? Zimbabwe says he thinks about that option but “we just don’t know.” He acknowledges some bridges elsewhere have been rebuilt quickly, but many factors would be involved here. “We don’t know if we could reuse the foundations, what permits (we would need) … I urge people to go out and see how when the low bridge opens, it opens very very close to the high bridge.” Overall, “We hope to answer that as soon as we can.”
Callanan says they’ve now received 1,000+ questions – many he asked were attributed to multiple people – and that council staff will work on the ones that didn’t get answered. At 6:30 sharp, the event ends. It should be re-viewable above soon; we also recorded off the screen so we’ll have it later tonight if the official archive lags.
6:59 PM: We just checked – you can now watch the archived video of the town hall above – advance to (updated) 59 minutes into the clip. Meantime, we’re covering the HPAC meeting next; as announced earlier today, the West Seattle Transportation Coalition has a bridge-focused meeting tomorrow, too.