By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The fourth month since the West Seattle Bridge’s closure started with the third meeting of the advisory Community Task Force.
The headline this time around was from the last item on the agenda, changes in the restrictions for use of the low bridge, which since the high bridge’s closure has been limited to transit, freight, emergency vehicles, buses, bicycles, pedestrians, and certain maritime workers. The meeting ended with concurrence on a plan to allow more access, as well as a mention that automated enforcementi is on the way.
First – the slide deck for the entire meeting:
We’ll add meeting video when it’s uploaded. Here’s our video:
Now – our summary:
LOW BRIDGE CHANGES? SDOT’s Adiam Emery opened the discussion by explaining that they’ve been continuing to analyze traffic volumes since implementing restrictions. Even with citywide traffic reductions and low-bridge restrictions, the low bridge is close to its safe capacity at some times, she said. In particular, weekends are “nearing maximum capacity” for the bridge. The 5-way intersection west of the bridge is the “key limiting factor” more than the bridge itself. They have a little more room for vehicles, so here’s the proposal for loosening up access a bit:
SDOT’s Heather Marx explained that vanpools aren’t an immediate priority because the pandemic has limited usage to 2 people. And Emery warned that any changes need to be “dynamic,” also noting that SDOT must keep in mind that Terminal 5 cargo operations are scheduled to expand next year, with completion of Phase 1 of the modernization process.
In discussion, Greg Nickels – who co-chairs the CTF with Paulina López – asked about low-bridge emergency vehicle usage, given that the peninsula has its own fire stations and an SPD precinct. Emery explained the “specialty” apparatus that has to come here for certain calls, as well as Station 36’s location “nestled” against the bridge. Nickels said it would be helpful to see specifics on how many and what types of calls had used the low bridge in the past three months.
CTF member Jill Mackie of Vigor also wondered about maritime access. License plate numbers of workers would be needed, said Marx, because of automated enforcement (we’re following up for more details on that enforcement, as we hadn’t heard it mentioned before; Marx said cameras will be set up in August). She also said the maritime industry has requested access for far more people than feasible.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold, one of the elected officials on the CTF, asked about the timeline for “future consideration” items. For example, Marx said, vanpools should move up when they are able to carry more people. Employer shuttles would be considered when the city hears more about how many people they will be able to carry.
As the meeting’s two-hour window expired, Nickels proposed that SDOT move ahead as outlined “as soon as we can make it happen.” No one objected. So watch for an announcement of overnight low-bridge access for all.
Here’s what happened earlier in the meeting:
STATE OF THE BRIDGE: Interim roadway-structures director Matt Donahue recapped the pathway to decisionmaking, as first shown last week. He explained what stabilization contractor Kraemer North America is doing now, and how “crack-arrest measures” are being planned so they could be part of long-term repair if the decision was to go that way rather than immediate replacement. They would continue working with current consultant WSP if long-term repair is the plan, but if replacement is the chosen route, it might be someone else – the “request for qualifications” is still open.
Donahue also went into details of how the stabilization will include a barge and temporary platforms that will be in place “roughly July through November” and will reduce maritime clearance under the bridge by about 7 feet.
Asked if the shoring would bring the bridge up to seismic standards, Donahue said that’s still an open question – a bridge replacement certainly would accomplish that, but they’re still determining how “seismic resiliency” would play into shoring/repairs.
TECHNICAL ADVISORY PANEL: The 30+ task-force members who were present got to “meet” Barbara Moffat and Scott Phelan from the Technical Advisory Panel. They’re co-chairs and in turn introduced other members – Steve Dickenson Reggie Holt, Debbie Lehmann, Gregg Freeby, John Stanton, and Adolph Furtado, all of them with deep resumes. The co-chairs briefly summarized their detailed background in bridge work; Phelan mentioned that the bridge “situation” has drawn national attention. Here’s the long list of their priorities (“key milestones”):
Moffat says their work so far has been like “drinking through a firehose.” She added that the big focus first is “understanding why … it’s critical to know why something is happening before repairing it.” She stressed that they’re working closely with SDOT as an “independent panel … with no ulterior motive.” They’ll be presenting to the CTF at various milestones in the process.
Asked about the absence of a “transportation planner” on the panel, Moffat said that may be appropriate later but right now they’re focused on data-gathering and the first phase of work, but the ultimate composition is up to SDOT. Another question: What about tunnel expertise, for consideration of that option? Moffat noted that she has significant tunnel experience including an “immersed tube tunnel” in Boston. (A few followup questions about tunneling were answered with a reminder that this is still early in the process – the city must decide first whether to repair or replace, and if the latter is pursued, then the question would be, what to replace it with.)
Where will costs come into play? The TAP will be reviewing the cost-benefit analysis that WSP is preparing, for one; that’s expected to be finished in late summer, though Phelan note that “some of the assumptions” from that work are being provided to the TAP along the way. Why won’t it be ready until then? Moffat replied, so that all possible scenarios are being considered equally, including their respective costs (she gave an example such as, what would it cost for long-term monitoring of a repaired bridge). Donahue said, “It may seem like we haven’t been doing much (but) thousands and thousands of personnel hours have been thrown at this over the last few months.” “Millions of dollars in instrumentation” is in place, too, he noted. Phelan noted that scenarios include a long list of considerations.
Councilmember Herbold commented that she is glad to hear the “why” is part of the work. Moffat offered “assurance to the community” that she would also have recommended closure if she saw what SDOT saw in March – “from a structural perspective, that was a sound and good decision … we are completely supportive of getting this thing back in service, whether it’s a repair or replacement.”
Another elected official on the CTF, State Rep. Eileen Cody, asked for clarification on Donahue’s disclosure last week that so far it appeared the bridge would be fixable. Donahue said again that he believes the bridge CAN be fixed, but reiterated that the question remains, SHOULD it be fixed? And that’s what the “repair or replace” decision and cost-benefit analysis are about. “We know we have to replace the bridge at some point.”
Phelan added that the TAP hasn’t seen all the evidence that “a repair can be done,” but also hasn’t seen anything suggesting it cannot be done. (SDOT went into some detail earlier this week.) They’re still working to understand what’s causing the cracks and want to be sure they haven’t “presupposed” anything. Moffat underscored that they’re working to keep an open mind as information comes in. “We’re data-gathering and we don’t want to rule anything out.”
RECONNECT WEST SEATTLE: Halfway through the two-hour meeting, the discussion moved to Reconnect West Seattle planning – how to get people onto and off the peninsula minus the bridge. July 6th is when lists of proposed mitigation projects, by neighborhood plus by mode (for bicycling and freight) – will be “launched out to the public,” said Marx. A Mobility Action Plan will be part of that. Marx acknowledged that transit has some “significant limitations” because of the pandemic. Nonetheless, they are hoping the Mobility Action Plan can dramatically shift the percentage of people using each mode – cutting the percentage of car drivers by more than half, for example:
Neighborhoods’ prioritization of smaller projects will be a key role, though Marx warned, “We will not be able to do all the things we wish we could do.” The draft timeline – including surveys when the proposals are launched – would finalize the Reconnect West Seattle plan by the end of September, three months from now. Task Force member and local restaurateur Dan Austin asked if anything could be done to speed that up. Marx said it’s taking time to translate the materials to get them out in early July, and they feel the public should have a month for feedback, for starters.
CTF member and Duwamish Longhouse director Jolene Haas wondered why West Marginal Way isn’t in the plan; Marx said that’s part of a separate process that also would be “brought to” the task force.
Could some “no-brainer” items be fast-tracked without going through the three-month process? Marx said that in this “resource-constrained” time, that could be problematic, so they want to consider all the feedback/project possibilities all at once.
CTF member John Persak from Georgetown talked about the problems they’ve been experiencing since detour traffic started filling that neighborhood, and the need for multiple means of outreach once the proposals are made public.
As for other mitigation details such as adding transit service, that wasn’t discussed this time around, but Metro is expected to be at the next meeting to talk about buses and Water Taxis.
NEXT TASK FORCE MEETING: After three consecutive Wednesdays, the WSBCTF’s next meeting is in two weeks, on July 8th, at noon.
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OTHER MEETINGS: 3 more bridge-related community meetings are ahead in the next 2 days – info is in our reminder.