(CLICK PLAY TO WATCH ARCHIVED VIDEO OF ENTIRE TOWN HALL – BRIDGE TOPIC STARTS 1:13 IN)
6:44 PM: Our coverage of West Seattle/South Park City Councilmember Lisa Herbold‘s Town Hall continues – we covered the first hour, on public safety, separately, and now it’s on to the second hour, about the West Seattle Bridge closure, in its seventh month. Really only 3/4 of an hour left, since the public-safety discussion ran long, and it’s starting with SDOT’s bridge project leader Heather Marx making a presentation. A lot of this covers ground we have covered repeatedly – including going all the way back to the March 23rd closure – so we’ll just note anything new that arises.
6:51 PM: Interesting datapoint, Marx mentions that the post-tensioning steel brackets being used as part of the stabilization were made at Vigor in the Portland area. And she reiterates that the Cost-Benefit Analysis is under way to shape the “repair or replace?” decision, which the Community Task Force will weigh in on, though if “replace” is the decision, the CBA does not include a final decision of HOW to replace it – that is the separate Type/Size/Location study. Marx says the mayor will “visit the Task Force to announce her decision and take questions.” (If that’s at a regular Task Force meeting, it wouldn’t be any sooner than October 21st, on the current schedule.)
6:58 PM: Now it’s on to Sara Zora, SDOT’s new “mobility manager” handling the Reconnect West Seattle traffic-mitigation program that’s part of the bridge project. She touches on the low bridge and its upcoming improvements, plus the evolving access policy, and the Community Task Force subcommittee that will work on it. She also had a bit of new information on what the enforcement cameras – pole-mounted – will look like. Then she moves on to West Marginal Way (see our recent story on the 6 planned/proposed changes). She reiterates that two of those changes – bike lane and freight lane – are still pending more “stakeholder engagement.”
7:11 PM: Finally to Q&A. First question Callanan reads is about whether the immersed-tube tunnel option is getting proper evaluation, since consultant HNTB specializes in bridges. Yes, says Marx. “To say that they don’t have experience in tunneling is untrue,” she adds, saying they’ve gone to lengths to explore the ITT in every aspect, and to constantly have it suggested that they’re not is “insulting.”
Next – why the punitive approach on the low bridge? “It feels like the city doesn’t appreciate what residents are going through.” Herbold takes this on first. She reiterates that the enforcement cameras will start with only warnings through year’s end. The state legislation that authorized it was intended to keep unauthorized vehicles out of transit lanes, and that’s “the function of the lower-level bridge right now.” It’s important that people respect its limited capacity, she stresses. When ticketing starts, it’ll be $75. Then she hands it over to Marx to talk about the low bridge’s capacity: 450 an hour “before we start impacting emergency services,” as she’s said at many briefings before. “What automated enforcement allows us to do is to be more finely grained” about access – perhaps allowing medical professionals, people who need life-saving medical treatments. She says she does understand as she lives in here and has a family and transportation challenges too: “We’re all in this together … The city IS on your side … We really have to protect the low bridge for emergency services.” Herbold notes that the camera use also will allow SDOT to better examine traffic patterns on the low bridge, which could in turn lead to other policy changes for usage. “We’re all pushing SDOT to … examine these policies.”
7:19 PM: Next Q, any plan to encourage better usage of park and rides, add more, encourage more water taxi usage, etc.? “All those ideas are definitely in play at this time,” Zora replies. Is there a time frame? Callanan follows up. Next few months, says Zora. They’re taking into account all the feedback from the 15,000+ respondents to the mobility survey.
Next Q, what will they do to encourage repair-or-replace crew to work as fast as possible? Marx replies, “How many crews and the hours of work are ‘means and methods,’ and we generally leave that up to the contractor … One of the things we can do is include some pay for performance measures,” such as a financial incentive for delivering early. The question is “absolutely valid,” she affirms.
Then: Why hasn’t there been much discussion about combining with light rail? “It’s a little bit complicated,” says Marx, adding that they are continuing to talk with Sound Transit about “the advisability of combining both bridges.” (ST has always been planning its own cross-Duwamish bridge, you might recall.) There might be wisdom in having two separate structures, she says. “There are good reasons to combine the structures, good reasons to keep them separate … you can rest assured those conversations are happening on a weekly basis.” Herbold adds that if a new West Seattle structure is built, it would be ’24-’26, but ST’s timeline is years later. She says she sent a letter about including this in the draft Environmental Impact Statement that ST is working on; they said it can’t be included but there’s “potential they could add it for analysis in the final EIS.”
7:27 PM: Why couldn’t the Longhouse just get a simple crosswalk? Marx explains that they have to have a signal before they can put in a crosswalk, and that (as mentioned in the West Marginal Way presentation) it will all be fully funded by the bridge project. “The interim signal will be installed in mid-2021,” Zora notes. (As we’ve reported, and as Marx added, dealing with the railroad tracks is what will take extra time.)
7:30 PM: This is wrapping up. In closing, Herbold says her office has ‘a big backlog of emails” and she and her staff are “doing everything we can” to get answers. Callanan says unanswered questions from tonight will be forwarded to her office too.
WHAT’S NEXT: Two related meetings are coming up next Wednesday (October 7th) – the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force meets at noon, and the District 1 Community Network is scheduled to have Councilmember Herbold as a guest at 7 pm. We’ll have connection information on both as they get closer.