By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Hours before she gets a firsthand look at the West Seattle Bridge danger zone with SDOT, City Councilmember Lisa Herbold provided an update tonight to the Pigeon Point Neighborhood Council. The neighborhood closest to the bridge’s crest held its every-other-month meeting by videoconference/phone, and we dialed in.
One major headline: After SDOT briefed the council on the bridge situation one week ago, it was expected they’d be back on April 27th. Herbold told PPNC that SDOT had asked to move the briefing up a week, to next Monday (April 20th), “I’m hoping there’ll be some news for us” about a time frame and plan for “shoring” the bridge, a necessary step before any permanent repairs can be made.
She said the biggest question she’s getting asked is why the bridge cracked so badly that it had to be closed.
She said the “preliminary speculation” from SDOT’s team led by roadway structures director Matt Donahue is that a “combination of factors” is to blame – the bridge’s own weight, the weight of traffic over the years (with an extra eastbound lane added), “post-tension losses” from the bridge settling, seismic effects (the Nisqually Earthquake in 2001), the uneven effects of heating and cooling, the brdge’s unique design …. “all of these things working together.”
And yes, she feels “really strongly” that the council and community should have gotten a heads-up from SDOT much sooner that the bridge was being watched closely – at the very least, in February when the city’s consultant said they would likely need to reduce traffic on the bridge, but better still if they had sounded the alarm when they decided to start monitoring the bridge more closely, It was a “failure of transparency” for that not to have happened, she said. She added that she’ll also be asking SDOT more questions about recommendations made back in 2014 and what was or wasn’t done at the time.
Is the bridge in danger of collapse? asked Pigeon Point neighborhood leader Pete Spalding. Herbold noted that a report on that risk is being prepared at the mayor’s request and should be ready within about a week. The cracks are still growing, according to the most recent SDOT report she’s received – same thing they told us a week and a half ago – but at a “much slower rate” than before the bridge’s March 23rd closure.
Is SDOT working with a sense of urgency? Herbold acknowledged that she is frustrated by not having information on how long the shoring/repair design will take; she says SDOT won’t set a timeline because “they want to make sure the work that’s done is the right work,” so setting a deadline might “result in inferior design.”
What’s being done to address where the money will come from? She says SDOT so far has suggested the budget for the interim shoring is not a problem, though she is trying to get clarification on whether that’s a reference to the shoring design or the design and implementation. As for the permanent repairs, she cited her least-favorite city transportation project, the Center City Connector streetcar, as one place from which funding could be diverted (it’s set for debt financing, she noted).;
She also discussed the traffic effects of being without the high bridge, including her ongoing request for SDOT to “consider relaxing restrictions on the low bridge, letting medical personnel use it, for example, and people commuting off-peak – maybe even “tiered access” for northern West Seattle residents. But she says SDOT is resolute in maintaining the restrictions until traffic volumes show more people are actually following them. And even if they did loosen the restrictions any time soon, she acknowledged, they’d likely have to be tightened up again when people return to their offices and other out-of-home workplaces.
Meantime, she and Transportation Committee chair Councilmember Alex Pedersen have participated in multiple group meetings to discuss traffic-management plans. She’s also receiving reports from SDOT on actions such as traffic-signal adjustments. If you have a suggestion, let her know – firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT’S NEXT: Watch for a report on Herbold and Pedersen’s bridge visit later today (she told PPNC he’s shaping up as a “great ally” in keeping the pressure oN SDOT for bridge progress).