VIDEO: Tolls? Taxes? Or? Paying for West Seattle Bridge repair/replacement, and other topics @ Community Task Force meeting #4

(Reader photo)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The decision on whether the West Seattle Bridge will be repaired or replaced has not yet been made. but the topic of the day was how to pay for whichever option is chosen.

Not only was that a spotlight topic as the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force‘s fourth meeting, it was also the topic of an SDOT Blog post published during the meeting. So that’s the topic with which we begin, after the slide deck and first of two videos from the meeting:

BRIDGE FUNDING: During her part of the meeting, SDOT’s Heather Marx reviewed the “fundamental funding truths” of the bridge project – all based on the premise that the city doesn’t have the money to fund repair or replacement without supplementation.

How much money? One consultant is already working on a Cost/Benefit Analysis, as previously announced, and the CBA’s “draft criteria” will be presented to the CTF next month. The city, Marx stressed, is doing all it can to be ready to pounce on multiple means of potential funding:

They need a specialized consultant for an “investment-grade traffic and revenue study,” Marx said, which will take a year and a half, and they’ll put out an RFQ for this soon.

This study will answer questions such as the corridor’s travel demand, potential tolling scenarios, and more. (We asked SDOT post-meeting about the study’s estimated cost: $2 million, was the reply.)

RECONNECT WEST SEATTLE: This, you might recall, is the umbrella name for the work-in-progress plan to help ease detour traffic. Marx said the proposals for neighborhood projects will go public on Friday (four days later than originally promised). CTF members will be asked to help circulate them. A postcard reminder will go into postal mail July 17th (Georgetown, South Park, SODO as well as WS), two weeks before the feedback period ends July 31st. The CTF will review results of that in August, and a final plan should be ready in early September.

The meeting began with a quick update on the bridge itself:

BRIDGE-WORK UPDATE: SDOT’s Matt Donahue presented the latest on what’s happening – starting with the stabilization work that’s under way right now. “We’re excited to be on the bridge” and doing that work, which started with “hydro-demolition” to create holes that will be used to hoist a platform. A frame will be lifted up to the bridge on Monday. Carbon-fiber wrap will follow, as will a “post-tensioning strand” that will precede release of the stuck bearing(s) on Pier 18.

TRANSPORTATION BENEFIT DISTRICT TAX: Then SDOT communications director Michael Harold, who has been facilitating the CTF meetings, recapped yesterday’s announcement of the proposed tax renewal to fund some bus service, with a spotlight on “emerging needs” resulting from the bridge closure. “We have to have the resources to be able to support (expanded transit),” Harold said.

BREAKOUT GROUPS: As noted in our coverage of the District 1 Community Network July meeting, there have been concerns that the CTF hasn’t had enough time to talk. So today after the initial half-hour of presentations, the attendees broke into 2 groups to do just that – talk. (Separate WebEx videoconferences were launched for that, so if you tried to get into the meeting late with the link we published, that’s what happened.)

We listened in on the group led by CTF co-char Paulina Lopez. “What are you hearing in the community?” was the bg question. “People are going to riot if there’s a toll,” said restaurateur Dan Austin. “Why are things taking so long?” is what West Seattle Runner (WSB sponsor) co-proprietor Tim McConnell said he’s hearing. “Clear timelines (are needed),” agreed Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association‘s David Bestock. And yet another voice for that was West Seattle Bridge Now‘s Amanda Kirk, who also said “real estate for the entire region” is a concern – “renters, homeowners, landlords, property values.” Greg Martinez from Georgetown said people are clamoring for more information on what’s going to be done to mitigate traffic. “General concerns about getting across and time it takes,” said Admiral’s Marci Carpenter. She also said something “really, really graphically clear” is needed to help people understand just how limited the low bridge’s capacity is. “Maintaining terminal access,” is what Port of Seattle commissioner Fred Felleman (filling in for Peter Steinbrueck) said the maritime community is concerned about. “It’s an existential threat to the port,” he added, noting that “the reliability … of the low bridge” is a huge concern too. Finding out more about SDOT/Sound Transit discussions regarding possible light-rail synergy was mentioned by State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon. County Councilmember Joe McDermott brought up the West Marginal Way safety concerns of the Duwamish Tribe.

How could the task force work more efficiently? Austin said getting meeting topics/agendas sooner would be good, so they could in turn solicit more-targeted feedback from community members. Make the meetngs longer if that’s what it takes – better to end a 3-hour meeting (window) early rather than leave a 2-hour meeting feeling you didn’t get to everything. And maybe the task force should break into interest groups – geographically, especially regarding traffic mitigation, for one. Lopez voiced a common community-meeting concern – that the meeting shouldn’t just be a time to sit and listen to SDOT presentations. The fact that some information is getting released to the public first – like the mentioned-earlier SDOT Blog post about financing possibilities, published during the meeting – sparked some concern.

When the two groups reconvened as one, we video-recorded the rest of the meeting:

The group we didn’t monitor reported out these community concerns: Status of motorcycles on the low briidge, speeding in South Park, heavy traffic in Highland Park, status of Lander Street Bridge in SODO, heavy traffic in Georgetown, absence of labor voices in the CTF such as the building trades, “urgency to identify the solution,” small businesses’ struggles to concurrently deal with the bridge issues and pandemic issues, transit-capacity challenges, faster decision-making so funding can get into state/federal budgets, and the need to give people hope – and a vision.

“We are going to find a solution,” co-chair Greg Nickels promised in closing remarks.

NEXT MEETING: Two weeks from today, Wednesday, July 22nd, at noon.

57 Replies to "VIDEO: Tolls? Taxes? Or? Paying for West Seattle Bridge repair/replacement, and other topics @ Community Task Force meeting #4"

  • TJ July 8, 2020 (8:30 pm)

    Well how about starting off with shuffling money from some of the city’s stupid projects, like the streetcar for example. The existing bridge wasn’t tolled, so don’t toll this one. And certainly no “LID” tax for us here. After all, west Seattle has been hosed twice in 40 years with a bridge debacle. Defies the law of averages. The federal government is on a path to create a big infrastructure package soon. Let’s see if the city politicians can actually get anything done with the feds instead of grandstanding 

    • tsurly July 9, 2020 (9:01 am)

      SDOT announced last month that they were pausing several projects due to looming budget shortfalls, including the First Ave Street Car. Additionally, you cannot just reallocate federal funds that are designated for a  specific project. Are you afraid of a LID tax because, owning property in West Seattle, you won’t be able to dodge it like you do with vehicle tabs by registering your cars outside of King Co? 

      • chemist July 9, 2020 (11:40 am)

        The C3 streetcar’s $50-75 M in FTA grants were already a part of an audit of SDOT by the feds (results pending afaik).  The cost estimate for the rest started as ~$70 M and ballooned to $210 M the last time I heard a total closer to $288 M.  The streetcar can be resumed at some other time and a lot of underground utility costs have already been incurred (which will be passed on to ratepayers), but SDOT is basically cancelling most things that aren’t underway/already sent to bid.

    • Jort July 9, 2020 (10:47 am)

      How about, starting off, you pay the taxes you’re obligated to pay if you choose to live in this area? I have no patience for people who evade paying taxes (by registering multiple cars in Spokane) who then turn around and lecture Seattle on how to spend its money. To those who have brazenly admitted to this multiple times in the past; their opinion should be worth as much as the car tab taxes they’ve paid for this city: zero.

  • Stan July 8, 2020 (8:31 pm)

    Ha!  Neither.  The bridge failed before its planned life expectancy so we definitely shouldn’t have to pay for the repairs.  Ridiculous.

  • Blang July 8, 2020 (9:39 pm)

    So basically we will have the only bridge in seattle that we have to personally pay for in addition to normal taxes.  This doesn’t sound equitable.

    • tsurly July 9, 2020 (9:13 am)

      Agreed, and that is exactly what the lawsuit will clam if  it comes to that. I am all for a toll on the West Seattle Bridge, and also for every other major bridge owned by the City (Fremont, Ballard, Montlake, and Magnolia), and I see a toll on the West Seattle Bridge opening up the same possibility on other City owned bridges.If you use it, pay for it. Do the people on here complaining about paying for the construction of and long term maintenance of a new bridge buy new cars then refuse to pay for the routine maintenance on it? 

  • Rick July 8, 2020 (9:42 pm)

    I commuted to Kirkland during the first debacle. Now this, and I’m not really that old. But I’ve seen a couple generations who have retired very well on these projects. Maybe I’ll live long enough to see another. Meanwhile, I go to work everyday.

  • InsultToInjury July 8, 2020 (10:26 pm)

    Toll? Are you kidding? I just paid $400 to register my car. You are failing West Seattle residents and businesses. 

  • Elton July 8, 2020 (10:55 pm)

    I’m sure there will be a flood of continued dissatisfaction in the comments, but I feel relieved that there’s a lot of community points of view being represented in these task force meetings that can help make sure logical conclusions are made and appropriate compromises. Also, props to WSB for the awesome coverage on this meeting!

  • Joe Z July 8, 2020 (10:59 pm)

    Why has SDOT concluded that a new high bridge is necessary? Just because an highway-style bridge was built in the 1980s does not mean it is the right thing to do in the 2020s. This is a 100 year project and we need to take our time to get it right and not just try and replicate what was there (which was a terrible bridge that mostly served as an I-5/99 queue. I want to see an EIS that also evaluates highway removal and construction of a cheaper 2nd draw bridge. I want to see what type of light rail expansion we could get for the price of a replacement bridge. If they do rebuild the high bridge there needs to be a new bus-only ramp to 99N ramp added which can be switched to an HOV ramp after light rail opens. Get the current bridge fixed/open to limited traffic ASAP but after that there needs to be way more studying done before any money is put toward a replacement. 

    • WSB July 8, 2020 (11:04 pm)

      They have NOT concluded that “a new high bridge is necessary.” They’ve gone out of their way to say other options will get a full evaluation, particularly the tube tunnel that has captivated some. “Replacement” is shorthand for “something getting people across the river.”

      • Joe Z July 8, 2020 (11:21 pm)

        Good to know, thanks. It sure feels like full steam ahead on highway-type replacements. The tube tunnel is basically a highway as well. Not sure how the city is going to meet its climate goal if we are encouraging long distance car commuting to continue for the next century. 

        • Anne July 9, 2020 (8:26 am)

          There has to be a way besides,biking, walking, busing for folks to get out of WS-those modes of transportation just do not work for everyone -maybe even the majority . Maybe down the road if buses could be more user friendly -(like get you where you need to go without multiple transfers -or create a hub or 2 for park and ride) it will encourage more riders-oh and we’re not still in midst of a pandemic -so we wouldn’t be riding  in a Petri dish. I don’t think the city is encouraging long distance car commuting -they’re facing the reality that it’s a necessity . Put the emphasis on other modes for short distance commutes. 

        • Matt P July 9, 2020 (10:02 am)

          It’s 6 miles from my house to my job in downtown; I wouldn’t consider that long distance at all.  I took the the bus every day before the pandemic, and it still needs a reliable way to get to downtown that’s not on a bridge that will randomly open during commuting hours.  If we were far from Seattle – like Issaquah – I would consider it a mistake to provide so much easy transportation to the area, which encourages sprawl instead of changing zoning laws to encourage density (it has definitely changed Issaquah for the worst with all the apartments there now), but we’re not far – we’re inside the city limits, so we need a way to get to and from downtown quickly and directly and we need it sooner rather than later – I’d consider the 10 years we still need to wait for light rail to be later (although with the pandemic killing funding, 10 years doesn’t look like it’s happening now either).

    • WS Driver July 9, 2020 (8:23 am)

      These are bad ideas. We need I-5 access. Please don’t push your anti-car agenda on families that require this.

      • Will July 9, 2020 (10:33 am)

        Thank you WS Driver. 

      • Joe Z July 9, 2020 (10:55 am)

        Given projected population increases in the region, imagine what congestion on I-5 will look like in 2040. And that’s just year 10 of a bridge with a 100 year lifespan. There will be challenges to the EIS if a new highway-style bridge is not given full evaluation of environmental impacts vs. a no-highway alternative. 

        • candrewb July 9, 2020 (6:08 pm)

          Oh, I think our political leadership has done a bang-up job slowing growth in the area by discouraging people from relocating here in the last couple years.

  • Blad July 8, 2020 (11:07 pm)

    I been saying this from the beginning. The city is going to make us to paid for a toll. so ridiculous What a joke 

  • Smittytheclown July 9, 2020 (12:26 am)

    More encouraging news on the “shoring”(code for fix) options. Seems more and more inevitable every update.  Git r done!   

  • 520user July 9, 2020 (12:46 am)

    Riot over a toll ? Like we are paying on 520 for instance ? You use it, you pay.

    • Sam July 9, 2020 (7:50 am)

      The difference is that you can opt to take i90 and avoid the tolls on 520. The WS bridge is really the one way in and out of WS. In the past when talks of tolling i90 have come up, Mercer Island residents have been against it because it really is their only way in and out.

      • tsurly July 9, 2020 (12:30 pm)

        “The WS bridge is really the one way in and out of WS.”No it is not, look at the current detour(s). If and when the West Seattle Bridge is tolled, you can always drive around if you don’t want to pay a toll.

      • RossB July 16, 2020 (10:28 am)

        The difference is that you can opt to take i90 and avoid the tolls on 520. The WS bridge is really the one way in and out of WS.That is simply not true. There is also the 1st Avenue South Bridge. In fact, the situation is quite similar. It is about as much of a detour for 520 drivers to take I-90 as it is for WS Bridge drivers to take the 1st Avenue South Bridge.  The big difference is that the alternate bridge can open. But even then, drivers have another detour, which is to head down to I-5, and cross there. That adds about 15 minutes to the drive, while detouring around via I-90 adds about half that.

    • Rick July 9, 2020 (8:23 am)

      Next, there will be a toll on the air you breathe based on estimates. You use it,you pay, right? Didn’t we already pay for that damn bridge?

  • John July 9, 2020 (1:54 am)

    Well let’s see they cut the SPD budget by 20 million dollars they should put that towards the bridge. Or perhaps some of this payroll tax that they have.

  • Delridge Resident July 9, 2020 (7:05 am)

    A toll?! Seriously?! That’s also a fantastic way to keep forcing traffic through Highland Park and White Center.They need to move forward on a replacement. As population increases over time traffic will be many times worse when a replacement is necessary after the 10ish years a repair buys us.  Who knows how many of the 80-100 year old bridges in the city will also need replacing by then? The last thing we need is them all shutting down at the same time. In that scenario West Seattle will almost certainly get the short end of the stick.Fine everyone lighting off fireworks, taking their dogs onto Alki beach, not wearing masks where required, and speeding through neighborhoods. And if this debacle is the fault of the contractor, they should be heavily subsidizing this as well.

  • Apey July 9, 2020 (7:12 am)

    I’m not sure why we should be responsible for paying for something that failed WAY before its life expectancy. Where is the company that built this failed bridge?

  • AN July 9, 2020 (7:51 am)

    They should not be raising our property taxes!! Mine went up 890 in 2019 and another 800 for this year. Elderly people with a paid off mortgage are paying a lot more in taxes then their mortgage ever was and on a fixed income! Raising our taxes and having to drive an extra 30 to 40 minutes in traffic, that doesn’t even include the reduced speed limit time that it now takes to even go through west Seattle! Someone needs to learn how to manage our money better! 

  • Brandon July 9, 2020 (7:59 am)

    The City (Council) has never met a tax, toll or fee it didn’t love.  Magnolia, you’re next. 

    • flimflam July 9, 2020 (1:43 pm)

      Magnolia will likely have to wait until their bridge is *completely* unsafe as well…

  • Brian Feusagach July 9, 2020 (8:02 am)

    I would happy to pay a toll as a PART of an overall funding strategy just like I do when I choose to use the 99 tunnel or the 520 bridge. My trade-off is usually cost (of the toll) vs time saved on my trip. The bridge would not be the only option for getting in and out of West Seattle and other non-toll routes would still be available.

    • qvm July 9, 2020 (10:52 pm)

      I am okay with this idea.  Maybe a partial toll or expressway (like an option to pay to use the bus lane).

  • JenT July 9, 2020 (8:08 am)

    What exactly does this mean for the timeline of either repairing and/or replacing?

    “They need a specialized consultant for an “investment-grade traffic and revenue study,” Marx said, which will take a year and a half, and they’ll put out an RFQ for this soon.”

    I read this as yet another 18-month delay, and I sure hope I’m wrong.

    • WSB July 9, 2020 (10:28 am)

      SDOT says they’re doing many things in parallel, such as planning for a replacement whether it’s going to be built in a year or 10 years.

  • Mj July 9, 2020 (9:36 am)

    SDoT review shows to date that the bridge is repairable!   The City needs to find funding, redirect from other spending if needed, to get the bridge repaired yesterday.  West Seattle residents should not be penalized for the City’s failure to properly maintain the bridge, SDoT found concerns in 2014 that they did not fully address other than monitor the situation. 

    I’m frustrated big time regarding this colossal failure.  Further aggrevating this is the City’s failure to ensure significant added transit service will be provided throughout WS when the economy/schools open up.  This means all day bus service throughout WS.

  • Ookla the Mok July 9, 2020 (9:51 am)

    We have all been free riders on infrastructure that was built and paid for by our grandparents’ generation. Subsequent generations failed to pay their share to maintain it or expand it, and we are now realizing the consequences of those failed policy decisions. That we now are being asked to pay for the infrastructure that we have become accustom to is not unreasonable or surprising.

    • RossB July 16, 2020 (10:31 am)

      Good point. Oh, and we are whining about it as well. It is not like people haven’t talked about the infrastructure maintenance backlog for years. It is just that we didn’t want to pay for it.

  • Jenny July 9, 2020 (10:16 am)

    18 month timeline for revenue study????

    • JenT July 9, 2020 (11:25 am)

      I know, I had a similar comment. Unbelievable, even if it is in parallel with other efforts.

    • Wseattlite July 9, 2020 (11:35 am)

      And 2 million dollars for that study. People have lost their minds and think that actually getting things done is secondary to studying it and paying politicians to not make decisions.  

      • tsurly July 9, 2020 (12:50 pm)

        You are right WSEATTLITE, SDOT should just make an impulse, non-data driven decision, just to appease the masses who have no idea what they are talking about. When that happens and things do not work out, it will give you something new to complain about.

  • WS5 July 9, 2020 (10:55 am)

    Without the bridge many student sports and field trips will be harder to deal with and travel time will increase which makes less time in the classroom. Add a Toll this cost will also have to passed onto more families or schools.  With Covid19 I guess we will have less of these actives happening this year anyways.

  • MJo July 9, 2020 (11:51 am)

    I don’t have a problem with  a “use it/pay for it” toll model, but I do wonder in that scenario how many cars will choose to divert through Highland Park to avoid it? Seems like a toll would again disproportionately affect the same neighborhoods that are already bearing the burden of the bridge being out in the first place.

  • Jort July 9, 2020 (12:45 pm)

    I am always fascinated by the apopletic reactions people have when confronted with the extreme costs of our historically mistaken reliance on a cars-first transportation system.  Our country did not uniquely err in this century-old decision, but we certainly can adapt, like every other major and minor city on the entire planet earth, to non-cars first transportation planning that still allow for a successful economy and social life. Car brain disease, which is very easy to catch, makes you think that your car is literally the only possible conduit to freedom. That is false. Cities all over the world, big and small, have learned that you can efficiently, safely and sustainably move human beings across distances long and short using methods other than cars. Seattle can make this change, too. We are not special, and yes, you will deal with it.   

  • Tolling is a Sound idea July 9, 2020 (1:14 pm)

    I encourage folks that read and respond on the comment page to follow-up reactions to the possibility of tolling to some of the studies the WDOT has done.  State laws provide them authority to toll and there are very specific reasons and practices that they have to follow.  You can see all of the studies and reports at .  I believe that tolling fits the scenario for the West Seattle Bridge and probably should have been in place much earlier.  In the second part of the report on tolling commissioned by the legislature and published in 2006, the main reasons to consider tolling are: population growth; decreasing operational efficiency of the existing transportation system; declining revenue; increasing costs.  The report also suggests to use tolling when it will: contribute to a significant portion of the cost of a project that cannot be funded solely with existing sources; optimize system performance; be fairly and equitably applied; not have significant adverse impacts through diversion of traffic to other routes.  I can hear others observing that a toll could have significant adverse impacts on local neighborhoods, 1st Ave Bridge, West Marginal Way, and Georgetown as is occurring now because of the closure.  However, with greater than expected use and lower rates of diversion on the 99 tunnel and the I-520 bridge, I think a toll would help encourage use of public transport, provide needed funding for maintenance of this major city artery, and provide a means to partly fund (with additional support from federal grants or loans) the repair and replace costs. “We didn’t have to pay for it before!” some might write.  True, but that does not seem to be any more a sustainable solution for the long-term than everyone getting on a bike.

    • chemist July 9, 2020 (9:02 pm)

      How much is the toll on the South Park bridge that was recently replaced?

  • TJ July 9, 2020 (1:59 pm)

    Well Tsurly and Jort, you will be happy to know that I will soon have to register my 4 vehicles back here as my property outside Spokane is on the market. Having built a new house here 5 years ago the tradeoff is how much more I pay in property taxes though. People complain about others not wanting to pay to support infrastructure, but I have seen that we pay MORE per capita now than 40 years ago, with tabs, sales taxes, property tax, and gas taxes dedicated for roads and transit. The lack of accountability on our taxes for roads is my main frustration. “Move Seattle” and “Bridging the Gap” were cool tagline levies that pledged to fix potholes for one and that has been lousy. But the truth is I won’t travel the high bridge anymore as I will be in Scottsdale AZ in 2022 if the economy cooperates these next 2 years. I have paid off my house here, will be in a position to sell my business outright at a large profit or possibly stay on as a distant partner, and my wife can move her practice down there. I have lived all 48 years of my life here in West Seattle but the writing is on the wall with the direction of this city that my money and life will be much better away in a area not looking to constantly take more and more for less and less.

    • Matt P July 9, 2020 (3:10 pm)

      We pay more per capita yes, but far less when inflation adjusted.  We have not been doing maintenance on all the roads and bridges our grandfathers built.  And some of us, like you, don’t even pay what they’re supposed to.

    • KBear July 9, 2020 (10:03 pm)

      No, TJ. You “had” to register your vehicles here all along. Instead, you chose to flout the law. You are a freeloader. The one thing I will give you, though, is that we in Seattle pay far more in taxes than we receive in benefits, compared to taxpayers in Eastern Washington. We subsidize the rest of the state, while they elect “fiscal conservatives” who demand lower and lower taxes. The fact of the matter is, it’s OUR bridge, and we’re all going to have to pay to fix and/or replace it.

    • skeeter July 10, 2020 (10:04 am)

      C’mon TJ you gotta think outside the box.  You’ve been perjuring yourself for years to
      avoid paying your share of vehicle taxes and there’s no reason to stop now.  Just find a friend in Yakima or Cle Elum who
      will let you use their address to register your cars.  

  • My two cents ... July 9, 2020 (2:01 pm)

    Another adverse impact to a toll for a West Seattle Bridge Replacement would be continued tax inequity where lower incomes pay a disproportionate share.

  • wseaturtle July 9, 2020 (6:32 pm)

    Add some tolls, raise the rents and property taxes. It’ll be ok.

  • WTF July 9, 2020 (7:32 pm)

    Bend over Seattle. This is just the beginning.

  • Molly July 9, 2020 (9:21 pm)

    While I understand why they will inevitably toll the WSBridge (New York is a big example where a major city taxes and tolls all its major roadways), I believe it needs to be done as an overall system of taxing on bridges around the city. The Ballard bridge comes to mind. Additionally, there has to be a guarantee that the tolling will *actually* keep the bridge safe for the COMPLETE lifespan of the bridge. If WDOT or SDOT uses that money towards other safety projects at the complete loss of the bridge, it would be frustrating that we reach 35 years on a new bridge only to find ourselves with a broken bridge and no way off the island. 

  • RossB July 16, 2020 (10:42 am)

    The city should have the state pay for it. Make it a state highway if they want, but the state should pay for it, just like the state built the new SR 99 tunnel. This is a maintenance project, and should be much higher priority than building the new 509/167 project.That being said, it should have a toll, just like the SR 99 tunnel and 522 bridge. It shouldn’t be a big toll, but enough to encourage people to take the bus.  As other bridges need repairs, tolls should be added as well. If Magnolia wants to keep their bridge, there should be a toll, although the smarter thing to do is simply not replace it. Unlike this bridge, the cost/benefit of replacing that bridge just isn’t worth it. It is reasonable to toll all ship-canal bridges for the same reason (again, not a really high amount) to add revenue for similar repairs that are inevitable in the future.

Sorry, comment time is over.