(UPDATED 6:03 PM with meeting video, added to end of report)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
SDOT has a new timeline for the big decision on repairing or replacing the four-months-closed West Seattle Bridge.
Previously, they’d been saying “late summer.” This afternoon, they told the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force that the decision is now expected in October, once a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is complete. Explaining the CBA process was a big part of the advisory group’s 5th meeting, which spanned a wide agenda. But before we get to that:
LOW-BRIDGE ACCESS CHANGES: A new plan is in the works, unveiled by SDOT’s Heather Marx:
As the slide says, automated enforcement is now projected to start in September – at which time “all use will be tied to license plate numbers.” She was asked about traffic volumes now that the low bridge is open to all overnight; she didn’t have that handy but will look it up. What about motorcycles? She said traffic engineers aren’t recommending it. What about changing the overnight access hours? It’s a “dynamic policy,” Marx said. What about opening the low bridge for local businesses, since so much consideration is being given to the port? Marx said there are “10 contingency slots” right now and perhaps the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce or Junction Association could put together a specific request. County Councilmember Joe McDermott said he’s been hearing from constituents who have had trouble making medical appointments when they encountered midday work on the 1st Avenue S. Bridge. Marx said that managing those kinds of exceptions would be difficult at best but she’s open to ideas. She reiterated that the low bridge can only fit 450 vehicles an hour without affecting emergency traffic, and they have to be mindful of that. “This is a puzzle we’re going to continue to revisit.”
METRO AND WEST SEATTLE: Steve Crosley, point person for Metro’s West Seattle Bridge “response,” led this discussion. (He also spoke to the West Seattle Transportation Coalition in June.) He said travel times from West Seattle have remained steady; with distancing requirements, of course, capacity is only 25% of what it was for buses, while the Water Taxi’s capacity is about a third of what it was. He said they’ve been extensively analyzing data to see how ridership is going – even stop by stop, not just route by route.
Here’s an example of how they’re monitoring:
That’s all leading to analyses and action plans -including one that will go public later this week, noting that routes 55, 56, and 57 will return in September.
Crosley said they’re meeting with SDOT “at least three or four times a week to talk about different aspects of West Seattle response. He also showed a “heat map” of the busiest boarding spots (note the dots):
What happens after next March depends on how ridership goes and how funding goes – the proposed renewal of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District will provide less funding than the expiring one, for example. City Councilmember Lisa Herbold asked for more on that since there’s a proposal to have the STBD renewal double its sales-tax percentage (.2% instead of .1%) to try to make up some of what it’s losing because of the absence of a vehicle-license fee. The big factor, Crosley reiterated, is bus capacity – once capacity can safely be increased, “we have quite a lot of capability [buses] to move people to and from West Seattle.” And he reminded CTF members that on-peninsula travel is still a big factor too – routes like 50 and 128 are at 50 percent pre-COVID levels, more than double the cross-Duwamish routes.
Crosley also listed some increases that could be made with “third-party funding,” for bus and Water Taxi service:
For potential Water Taxi expansion, he said they’d put out an RFQ for additional docks, and received three proposals. (We’re checking on those. One was mentioned by Duwamish Longhouse director Jolene Haas during breakout-discussion time at meeting’s end, by the operator of Miner’s Landing on the downtown waterfront.) But when capacity is back to normal, with two boats they’d be able to move 2,500 people per commute period. He also noted that Metro published this recent post last week with more info for West Seattle riders.
COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS PROCESS OVERVIEW: Marx led this section of the meeting – to explain what the CBA is and is meant to do. (SDOT also details the process extensively in this blog post today.)
Next month, they want CTF input on the criteria to be analyzed, and the CBA is to be complete in October – so the repair-or-replace decision won’t be finalized until then. It will also be predicated on restoring traffic “no later than 2026,” though it was stressed that’s the worst-case, no-later-than scenario, not an expectation. And if they decide to replace, THEN they would do a “type, size, and location study” that would get into details such as what type of replacement (bridge? tunnel? or?)
For the CBA, here are the scenarios – note that repairs are now projected to potentially provide 15 more years of life for the bridge:
Then some concept sketches were shown, for what the CBA will analyze – again, these are just for the CBA, not for a final design choice, and further elaboration on each is here:
Marx then reviewed the proposed evaluation criteria – the CTF’s input is being sought on this. Some early discussion centered on how the port would be affected, and then veered off into the weighting of potental criteria.
In the breakout group that we monitored for the final half-hour of the meeting, one CTF member expressed concern that they would be asked to weigh in on the CBA without having numbers regarding the cost; SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe said those would be available later in the process – around the time the repair-or-replace decision is being made.
Other topics from the meeting:
RECONNECT WEST SEATTLE UPDATE: Marx said 10,000+ people have answered the general survey, 1,000+ have filled out the “neighborhood prioritization” ballots – SDOT is thrilled with the former, Marx said, and hoping for more of the latter.
Watch for word soon on the “office hours” – online events at which you can ask questions while working on the ballots. Those will happen next week. Also, tonight at 7, HPAC is hosting a “drop-in session” to talk about neighborhood options – that info’s here.
EMERGENCY DECLARATION: Marx mentioned the recent city declaration of emergency and said they’re working on “timing” for a state declaration.
1ST AVENUE S. BRIDGE WORK REMINDER: This continues, as Marx mentioned in her presentation – tonight is the fourth of 14 overnight northbound closures for work on this state-owned bridge. The 10 pm-5 am closures fall during the hours the West Seattle low bridge is open to all.
WHAT’S NEXT: The CTF’s next meeting is August 5th.
P.S. We recorded video of this meeting and will add it when it’s ready in a few hours. Here, meantime, is the full slide deck from which we used excerpts above.
ADDED 6:03 PM: Here’s the video of the 2 hours during which the entire group met together, pre-breakouts: