By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“We know we CAN fix the bridge – the question is, SHOULD we.”
That revelation from SDOT‘s top bridge engineer was a big piece of news that emerged at the second meeting of the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force this afternoon.
Also, in response to a CTF member’s question, SDOT said the city and state are working on a disaster declaration in relation to the bridge closure.
Before we get to our summary of the meeting, held online/by phone – the task-force roster is here; co-chairs are Paulina López, executive director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, and Greg Nickels, former Seattle mayor and longtime Admiral resident. We recorded video
which we’ll add when it’s ready (added 9:14 pm – here it is:)
Here’s the slide deck:
First presenter was Matt Donahue, SDOT’s interim director of roadway structures (bridges and more), with a ‘state of the bridge” update.
He noted that the structural monitoring has been up and running for a few weeks now. It’s tied into an alert system in case any particular “bridge behavior” exceeds certain thresholds that would trigger the Emergency Response Plan. They’ve been continuing “near daily” in-person inspections, focused on the south girder wall of southmost girder, but are now pulling that back to every two weeks because the instrumentation has everything else handled. “The bridge does still continue to show hairline cracking every week.”
In Q&A, he went into detail on the four kinds of instrumentation and what kind of data they provide – it’s not as simple as, say, if crack X gets to length X, alarm bells go off. Stabilization contractor Kraemer North America is now doing active work, assembling steel lifting frames in a yard near the bridge, to prepare for stabilization work. The Technical Advisory Panel has met twice and is consuming a “massive amount of information.”
Donahue recapped the recently unveiled pathways to decision-making on repair or replacement – either repair with a new bridge (or alternative, it was clarified – a tunnel is still an option too) down the road, or replacement with a “50-75 year life span,” the former number if some parts of the existing structure are reused.
County Councilmember Joe McDermott restated his concern that – since it’s clear the bridge must be replaced, whether immediately or in a decade – that the potential repair planning not delay replacement planning.
That’s when Donahue mentioned – almost in passing – this:
“We know we can fix the bridge – the question is, should we – so what we’re doing with (consultant) WSP is a cost-benefit analysis” that is expected to be ready in the fall, Donahue said.
City Councilmember Lisa Herbold asked for clarification on that. Donahue said that was a result of early feedback – ground-penetrating radar investigation showed “no systemic problem with post-tensioning strands” in early results from studies, so that’s what led to the preliminary conclusion that there’s nothing major that would prepare repairs – again, feasibility is now the issue. (In a followup conversation with SDOT as we finished this report, it was stressed to us that is NOT a final verdict – it’s a technical observation for “this moment in time” and a “fixable or not” final pronouncement is still some weeks away.)
Shortly afterward, SDOT’s Heather Marx picked up the second major topic of the meeting: Doing something about traffic. She laid out what an SDOT spokesperson told us pre-meeting was a “framework” for “Reconnect West Seattle,” the initiative first identified at last week’s Pigeon Point Neighborhood Council (WSB coverage here). This again takes on the challenge of figuring out how to get people to and from the peninsula now that the major route is out of commission.
She also promised that more Water Taxi and bus service WILL be available, but driving-wise, funneling more cars through the south area “has real impact on people” who live there. The city is concerned about the fact that South Park and Georgetown already have health and economic disparities as a result of environmental injustices, not even counting the traffic that already has increased dramatically (as one slide showed). “We need to think very carefully from an equity perspective about what it means to send that many more vehicles through those communities,” Marx said.
She showed all the mode options and suggestions of how they could be reshuffled, and warned “no one thing is going to solve the problem for us.” Solving the problem of moving everyone in and out has to be done without
80+ percent of people were using cars to get to/from the peninsula previously. The city proposes reducing that to “a more favorable mode split” with driving representing 35 percent. But that – or something else – would be the result of a process that includes community input, including parallel processes with plans for four neighborhoods, as previously mentioned.
In Q&A, Erin Goodman reminded SDOT to look at impacts on SODO, too, which is next stop on people’s northbound trips, beyond South Park and Georgetown. It too will have a traffic-mitigation plan, assured Marx.
Another question: Could bike-share bicycles be used (since right now the services have all pulled out) if they are available? Marx said she’d look into that.
Deb Barker brought up her (previously reported here) contention that the bridge closure should be declared a state/local emergency and asked if that would . That’s when Marx said they are “right now working on an emergency declaration” at state and local levels, but that it doesn’t qualify as a federal emergency.
Seattle Port Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck asked how the corridor can get “significantly more transit service.” Marx noted that Metro is having serious money issues as well as having to keep distancing going, but the city is working with them on increasing service. And Nickels obsrved that health concerns will keep a lot of people from riding, at least for a while.
Danielle Friedman from the Department of Neghborhoods wnt over something we’ve covered previously – the upcoming neighborhood-survey process to prioritize some projects that ca be built for lss than $100,000 and within 12 months. The projects on the lists primarily come from previous suggestons, she said.
Barker voiced concern about timing – is there any way for that process to move quicker, because the current timeline suggests “it’s going to take a lot of time before anything gets done.” Friedman acknowledged that trying to make sure things get done “equitably” adds time and invited suggestions.
Dan Austin asked to get the lists faster than currently suggested, and SDOT said that could happen. Marx said they’d go out “shortly”; asked for specifics, Friedman said, “hopefully in the next few weeks.” Marx said they would try to speed that up.
Greg Ramirez of the Georgetown Community Council pointed out that Michigan Street isn’t shown as an official part of the detour route but is being used as one (largely to get from 1st Avenue S. Bridge to I-5) anyway.
The meeting began with almost half an hour of operational discussion, including a few introductions from CTF members who couldn’t attend or speak last week. “While it’s a journey, it’s a journey with unknown turns right now,” observed one of them, Commissioner Steinbrueck. The group’s suggested “working agreement” also was presented by López. The first point mentioned “confidentiality” and Councilmember Herbold observed that didn’t seem appropriate as these are open public meetings, as well as being covered by media; the list will be distilled before being finalized.
NEXT MEETING: Now set for noon next Wednesday, June 24th. We’ll publish the link as soon as it’s available. Low-bridge policies will be among the topics.