By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Even once there’s a repair-or-immediately-replace decision for the West Seattle Bridge, that won’t necessarily be the absolute final word.
That bit of information emerged in breakout-group discussion during today’s seventh meeting of the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force, which dealt with a variety of topics, and began with a mayoral guest appearance. Our video below shows the first 1 1/2 hours of the 2 1/2-hour meeting:
Task Force co-chair Paulina López opened the meeting, previewing the agenda. Co-chair Greg Nickels introduced the current holder of his former job, Mayor Jenny Durkan. “The job of mayor in the best times is a hard job … (this) mayor has had an incredible amount of hard stuff on her plate this year,” from COVID-19 to racial-injustice protests to the topic at hand, the emergency closure of the West Seattle Bridge almost five months ago.
She opened with warm words for the co-chairs and gratitude for the service by everyone on the advisory group. “We know it’s going to be very hard to come through this.” She insisted that despite everything going on, “the West Seattle Bridge still looms very large on my radar.” (Besides regular briefings, she said she stayed up late one night researching bridge technology and what can be built quickly.) She noted that the bridge is more than West Seattle residents’ lifeline, it’s also vital for freight, and for the port. She also reiterated that she’s reminding state and federal partners of the bridge’s importance – “I’m looking at all levels” of funding.
In Q&A, CTF member John Persak asked the mayor to elaborate on the maritime industry’s role, especially Terminal 5. She says she’s been talking to the port about it, and said they’ll “continue looking at creative, innovative solutions” (but did not offer examples) because she’s aware “thousands of jobs” are riding on it. Jill Mackie of Vigor followed, pointing out that 600 skilled tradespeople work at the north end of Harbor Island and they’re interested in what she’s learned about speedy solutions, including stabilization that’s under way. Bridge failure “would really limit our options” so that must be done first, the mayor stressed, even if the next move is to demolish it. She also stressed that transportation mode-shift by all is vital to support the maritime industry among others.
CTF member Tim McConnell, co-proprietor of West Seattle Runner (WSB sponsor), asked about funding. The mayor mentioned the interfund loan (just approved at the council committee meeting we covered) and also her recent (overridden) veto of the council’s decision to spend reserves on pandemic-related financial relief. Dan Austin, Peel & Press proprietor and co-chair of the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce‘s Government Affairs Committee, asked about increasing low-bridge access for small businesses trying to get supplies. The mayor said, “Let’s look at that,” musing that maybe the fact Seattle Public Schools won’t be using the low bridge would open more access. “We know you need more, we’re looking at how you can get it,” such as perhaps combined supply runs.
Deb Barker. president of the Morgan Community Association and board member of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition, asked a question she has long raised: Would the mayor support a construction/development moratorium in West Seattle while the bridge is out? Durkan said she hadn’t pondered that but “the construction industry is one of the few places in our economy that’s keeping people employed.” Maybe alternating workdays? she suggested. She also offered a side note – they are looking at increasing walk-on water transportation. Task Force member Peter Goldman put in a pitch for increased e-biking, and a public/private e-bike partnership he says is in the works; the mayor noted she has an e-bike and uses it often. Task Force member Peter Steinbrueck, a Seattle Port Commissioner, asked “What are the primary causes of the bridge failure in the first place – how can we move forward with repair or replacement (without knowing that)?” The mayor first replied that they still don’t know which of multiple contributing factors is really to blame. “It’s a very complicated structure built at a time when nobody foresaw the amount of traffic it would take.” Lopez concluded by inviting the mayor back; she promised she would return.
BRIDGE UPDATES: SDOT’s Heather Marx delivered a round of updates, starting with more on the stabilization work under way now:
She then talked about the funding that got Transportation Committee approval earlier today, with more on what it’ll cover:
And there was a recap of Tuesday’s announcement of HNTB as the contractor to design a replacement.
RECONNECT WEST SEATTLE Marx handed off to the Department of Neighborhoods’ Danielle Friedman, who had the final count of Neighborhood Prioritization ballots from the process that wrapped up July 31st:
The surveys were not the only factors that went into the proposed project lists:
Community check-ins this past week were among the contributing factors:
The lists of top projects are now on the RWS webpage, Friedman said.
You have one more chance to comment – through August 26th – email WestSeattleBridge@seattle.gov:
West Marginal Way, for example, will be addressed outside this process, she reiterated (that’s been noted by others, though no further details). She then handed off to Rachel VerBoort, who had the breakdown on who participated in the mobility surveys:
Then the key themes from the Mobility Action Plan survey – as previewed at the task force’s previous meeting – were elaborated on:
Here’s how respondents said, for example, they expected to change driving habits:
Bus commuting would drop, VerBoort said, so they’re looking at what can be done to fix that:
The presentation also included what it would take for more water-taxi commuting to happen.
How about remote working to cut down on cross-Duwamish traffic? Here’s what respondents said:
Note that a third of the 15,000 respondents said it’s just not an option. Meantime, they’re working on employer shuttles’ access, especially post-pandemic, though there seems to be a significant overlap in telework-friendly employers and shuttle-offering employers. And carpooling had some interest – again, post-distancing – so they’re looking into how to connect people interested in this option. Same goes for vanpools. Then – biking had interest:
With so many suggesting they’d bike more often with increased bike facilities, Colin Drake said three projects are proceeding immediately:
He touched on freight improvements to, particularly East Marginal Way.
In closing out this topic, Marx said the final RWS implementation plans will go to the Task Force at its next meeting September 9th.
BREAKOUT GROUPS: This was the first time the breakouts had different focuses. We listened in on the group that discussed the bridge itself (the other one was talking about RWS). This group included some technical staffers who hadn’t spoken to the Task Force before, including bridge program manager Greg Izzo. He said the Cost-Benefit Analysis is on schedule, around its midpoint, about to hone in on costs. He was also asked about how a decision can be made without the bridge going through a full year of observations regarding how it’s responding to different types of weather. He said that while they expect to have the data they need to make a decision in October as promised, they will keep monitoring the bridge and if its response to cold weather, for example, is different from what they expect, they would have a small window in which to “pivot.”
Another point of interest: If the decision is that repairs are feasible, they would be done with the goal of returning full traffic to the bridge, not a reduced-lane plan. That was in response to a question from CTF member Anne Higuera of Ventana Construction (WSB sponsor), wondering what kind of traffic demand they’re planning for, since it’s been acknowledged the bridge was not planned for the kind of traffic it eventually carried. (Speaking of plans, the SDOT team said they are still trying to gather some bridge-related records, such as the “as-built” documents, explained as records of what actually happened during construction compared to what was planned.)
One question after the full group reconvened for the final half-hour: How long would it take to get going if the October decision is to repair? They’re working now to be as close to “ready to go” as possible, because the goal would be to have traffic back on the bridge in 2022 if that path works out.
The RWS breakout group reported that they had discussed a variety of points, including that communities’ idea of freight routing might not dovetail with SDOT’s freight plan – Georgetown residents, for example, are concerned that freight is being over-prioritized. Also: hurry up and make a decision about W. Marginal Way “and proceed.” Plus: More work should be done to get feedback from a wider demographic range of people. Another discussion topic was how soon residents should be surveyed again on mode-split goals – suggestions included “at least quarterly.”
Nickels said he and López spent an hour with SDOT staff recently talking about the chokepoint at West
Marginal/Highland Park Way and how improving that would make a big difference for many. “We’re already designing an improvement,” promised Marx. No word, though, on when that plan will be publicly presented.
WHAT’S NEXT: As mentioned above, if you travel in one of the areas that went through the Reconnect West Seattle Neighborhood Prioritization Process, you have one more week to look at the “top 10” project lists and send in feedback. Meantime, the next Community Task Force meeting is at noon September 9th.