VIDEO: Six months post-closure, West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force awaits decision-shaping data

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Six months ago, the West Seattle Bridge was closed with just a few hours’ notice.

When, or if, it will reopen, remains undetermined.

But one thing’s for sure – the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force is getting close to one of its milestones in the process of helping with the decision about the bridge’s fate.

“Process” is the key word here, as noted by more than one person Wednesday afternoon during the all-volunteer task force’s ninth meeting. Much of the meeting focused on the process of developing the Cost-Benefit Analysis that is expected to be the key to the repair-or-replace decision later this fall.

Here’s how the meeting went:

BRIDGE BRIEFING: Project director Heather Marx started with a quick update on the stabilization work. She showed photos from what contractor Kraemer North America is doing, Mondays-Saturdays:

Next, an update on the low-bridge policy subcommittee, first discussed at the last task-force meeting. Its membership is not yet finalized:

WEST MARGINAL PROJECT: This part of the meeting started with SDOTs Sara Zora, last seen in West Seattle during “Delridge Multimodal Corridor” planning five years ago, introduced as the mobility manager for Reconnect West Seattle. She presented the update, which we covered in this WSB report last Friday. Here’s what it’s all meant to accomplish:

And it’s a busy, busy stretch:

To briefly recap, the six planned/proposed improvements in the order of SDOT presentation:

1. Duwamish Longhouse safe crossing, including a signal, 11 years after first requested, temporary signal 2021/ permanent in 2022
2. Rechannelization of West Marginal/Highland Park intersection, including signal-timing changes, restriping, and bus-stop relocation, by year’s end
3. Six signs showing how fast you’re driving, in the wake of the recent speed-limit lowering from 40 mph to 30 mph
4. Asphalt sidewalk replacing unpaved trail at roadside north of the Duwamish Longhouse
5. 2-way protected bicycle lane to replace “missing link” in Duwamish Trail, pending further community discussion – this could extend all the way to the Longhouse signal, Zora said
6. Freight-mobility improvements, possibly including a NB freight-only lane, or signage/markings to keep driveways from being blocked

She also repeated SDOT’s contention that “seconds” would be added to travel times by the proposed bicycle/freight rechannelizations.

Here’s the overall expected construction schedule:

In Q&A/comments after the presentation, Nucor‘s Ken Bowden noted the steel mill has a T-105 facility on West Marginal and voiced concern about the lane removal as well as the disruption potentially caused by construction, urging SDOT to evaluate the possible shifting of traffic bottlenecks that could result.

South Park Neighborhood Association‘s Aley Thompson noted that Duwamish Valley activists have been working for some of these safety improvements for years and reiterated their “strong support.”

Deb Barker from the Morgan Community Association and West Seattle Transportation Coalition wondered if construction of the bicycle connection could be sped up, so it would be available at the start of next spring: “Bike riders need that connection yesterday.”

Community Task Force co-chair Greg Nickels – who voiced concern at the last meeting about the possible freight-only lane – said it might not really change the capacity, but the perception that it could might have psychological effects on already stressed-out drivers. He also brought up the islands at the Highland Park Way intersection, saying their removal could increase capacity there. Marx said they’ve “assigned a designer” to “look at what’s possible in terms of removing those islands.” (As she had mentioned in our interview last week, the islands include some utility and drainage features that would have to be addressed.) Zora said that would overall be a potential “second phase” of the project.

Seattle Port Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck said the port does not support a dedicated northbound freight lane, believing it could “slow traffic with turning trucks. … We don’t see it as beneficial.” The port does support the Longhouse crossing-safety project, though, he said. He also questioned the protected bicycle lane’s potential usage.

Regarding the freight lane, Zora stressed that SDOT is still “talking with stakeholders” including businesses along WMW. Marx said some of those businesses were the ones who came up with the idea. As for the bicycle-lane usage, Zora said that’s hard to tell because current usage might be somewhat suppressed by safety concerns, and reminded everyone that Reconnect West Seattle has high targets for bicycle-use increase.

West Seattle Chamber of Commerce rep Dan Austin expressed concern about the southbound lane conversion and wondered if the bike trail and sidewalk on that side could be merged so that two vehicle lanes could be retained. Bob Watters from SSA Marine also was concerned about the southbound capacity. SDOT communications director Michael Harold, facilitating the meeting, suggested SDOT needs to be clearer that the real bottleneck is the 5-way intersection further north/west, stressing that their research so far does not show the bike-lane area would become one too.

Peter Goldman of the Washington Environmental Council and Cascade Bicycle Club said he’s long been a bicycling advocate but doesn’t think the PBL is necessary – as long as there is some way for bicycles to get safely to the Duwamish Trail. “There’s a lot of room there to work something out.”

At that point, SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe spoke up to say they’ve noted the concerns and will “bring back additional information to address them.”

City Councilmember Lisa Herbold then asked about funding for the Longhouse signal and other safety projects. As SDOT told us last week, Marx explained that SDOT is fully funding the project (from the “interfund” loan that’s providing the first $70 million toward bridge work and related projects).

State House Rep. Eileen Cody and Marci Carpenter of the National Federation for the Blind both voiced concerns about illegal driver behavior in the area. Marx said traffic engineering can’t solve it all so implored people to “spread the gospel” of good driver behavior. Carpenter added that a pedestrian/bicycle combination path could put pedestrians in danger.

Zora concluded the briefing by mentioning the new WMW traffic camera we reported on Monday – it actually is two cameras, she said.

COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS: If you’re getting impatient awaiting the decision on the bridge’s future – this might help you understand why it’s taking a while. “We’re getting really close to a big milestone,” said Marx, “A critical factor in our decisionmaking is how long it would take to replace the high-rise bridge.” But a reminder: “The CBA tells us whether we’re going to repair or replace – it doesn’t tell us HOW we’re going to repair or replace.”

Then Greg Izzo, project manager for capital delivery, took over. He noted that the CBA has a “business and workforce impacts” section as a result of task-force input. Here’s how the task force figures into it overall:

It’s all about scheduling/time as they move toward a decision, Izzo explained:

They’ve come up with attributes to evaluate, but the big task is weighing them against each other. Currently “seismic safety” and “mobility impact” are in the lead, combining input from SDOT as well as the Technical Advisory Panel and Community Task Force. In specific categories, here are some of the many factors to be evaluated:

And then, there are risks to evaluate as well:

After the presentation, task force members split into two groups; we monitored the one moderated by CTF co-chair Paulina López. New CTF member Diane Sosne of SEIU Local 1199 wanted to be sure that the business/workforce impacts addressed those who must leave the peninsula for work, who can’t telework, like the many health-care professionals her union represents. Marx said the “mobility attribute” would seem to address that. Sosne also wondered if a “hybrid” – repair AND replace simultaneously – option is under discussion. Marx said that would require a new alignment for building a new bridge alongside the current one, and that would take too much extra time.

Yazmin Mehdi from U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal‘s staff wondered about advance consultation with the U.S. Coast Guard; Marx said, “We’re engaged in them with that conversation” and noted that they’re partnering with Sound Transit since they have to talk about an additional Duwamish-crossing bridge for West Seattle light rail. Maritime rep John Persak said his industry could be adversely affected by a replacement timeline and that needs to be “quantified … in the discussion.” The shipping industry is watching all this and could decide whether to use Terminal 5 based on how this discussion is going. Steinbrueck emphasized that – “We cannot operate that terminal with just a low bridge. … There is so much at stake here that I think it constitutes the greatest risk of all, the potential delay.” Marx clarified that the risks under consideration are intended to be “risks to the project, not risks to the broader economy.” Carpenter wondered if soil sampling could be accelerated. She also asked for clarification on one point related to “legal authority” for funding; Marx explained that had to do with potential tolling that could not be done by the city “without a vote of the people.”

When members joined back together, Nickels reported back on his group’s discussion. They too were worried about the business/workforce impacts, as well as capacity of any potential replacement structure – “will it be able to accommodate the capacity, based on increasing density on the west side, and how crowded the bridge already was,” beyond the capacity envisioned when it was built. He also observed that today’s briefing was long on process and short on data – data they’ll need for making “an informed recommendation to the mayor” – but Izzo had assured him that data will be provided soon.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Community Task Force meets again at noon Wednesday, October 7th, “diving deeper into the data,” Harold promised. If you have comments – SDOT’s next bridge-related briefing is tonight at the West Seattle Transportation Coalition‘s 6:30 pm meeting; connection information is in the listing on the WSTC website.

15 Replies to "VIDEO: Six months post-closure, West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force awaits decision-shaping data"

  • JenT September 24, 2020 (10:19 am)

    “Marx clarified that the risks under consideration are intended to be “risks to the project, not risks to the broader economy.” Kind of says it all about SDOT’s priorities.  Our economy, our livelihoods, our quality of life are meaningless to them.  Good to see members of the CTF *finally* showing some impatience with this disaster of a process.

    • BBILL September 25, 2020 (9:01 am)

      Measuring “the risks to the broader economy” would require extensive data, which would take a few months to gather, and because the desire is to get the bridge open sooner, rather than after collecting the data to measure “the risks to the broader economy,” it is probably for the best that data is not being gathered to measure such, and thus, it is for the best that the such is not going to be considered.

      • JenT September 25, 2020 (9:33 am)

        The CTF has had *months* to do just that. There’s no excuse for not running a parallel workstream starting 5 months ago.  Complete lack of foresight to not have a UW economics post-grad or a data scientist on the CTF who could have spent a few nights crunching some basic data and modelling the impact.  This town is full of data scientists, could have been an easy add to the CTF, if they had actually wanted such data.  Having worked with data scientists, this isn’t a huge lift and some basic modelling could easily have been done in parallel. My point was, after attending the initial Town Hall, following all coverage by WSB, and attending almost every CTF meeting, there has been very little care or empathy shown to the impact on residents and this quote exemplifies that.  Ridiculous to have a Cost Benefit Analysis without any assessment of the economic impact of this closure on residents and businesses.  They don’t have that data because they don’t want that data. 

        • WSB September 25, 2020 (10:45 am)

          The task force is an advisory committee, not actually preparing the Cost-Benefit Analysis. That’s being done by consulting firm WSP. The point of semi-contention here was that this was another briefing about what the CBA is looking at, rather than what it’s finding, but somehow the group – which is not a decisionmaking body – is expected to offer opinions relatively soon. For some past meetings, – TR

        • BBILL September 25, 2020 (1:19 pm)

          “I cannot believe they spent time or money on that.” Economic analysis of the impact is much more than a few nights’ work for a single person. It’s ‘easy’ to blame everyone for something one believes should have been done, and in this case WSP made it clear that it would take months of data collection to support a proper analysis, which is much more than “a few nights crunching some basic data and modelling the impact” (by a UW grad student). Whatever the case–if more is done, then people complain that “too much” was done, and if less is done, then others complain “not enough” was done. Also if the analysis was performed by a single person, and I’ve seen plenty of that here in the comments, there are underlying motivations. What outcome do you want? Some people would want to show that the economic impact is minimal, as they have a desire to delay fixing the bridge, and others have a desire to over-estimate the impact. No matter the outcome, there would be many questions about the modeling and data used.

  • payattention September 24, 2020 (12:21 pm)

    This also point’s out that SDOT really has NO idea what they’re doing. CLEARLY there’s nobody with the ability to take charge and move thing’s ahead. Seem’s to me SDOT’s plan is to “hum a few bar’s and fake it”

  • Heather September 24, 2020 (1:46 pm)

    All the money spent on all these task forces and studies.  Maybe you could actually DO something…..

    • Anne Higuera September 24, 2020 (3:10 pm)

      @Heather, the article mentions at the top that the community task force is all volunteer. If you have read WSB’s extensive reporting on the meetings, you would know that many things are being done: stabilization of the bridge, identification of and planning for implementation of traffic improvements that will improve safety and move more cars until the bridge is repaired or replaced, funding sources are being identified and the critical Cost-Benefit Analysis is under way and set to conclude soon.  As one of the task force members, I’d welcome your ideas about what you think should be done that isn’t happening right now.  

  • Whatmeworry September 24, 2020 (4:07 pm)

    Peter Steinbrueck said the port does not support a dedicated northbound freight lane, believing it could “slow traffic with turning trucks. … We don’t see it as beneficial.” So you gotta ask why is this even being considered. Freight already gets unfettered access to the lower bridge, why on earth do they need a dedicated lane. I understand they are part of our economy but seriously the hours of deliveries and arrivals can be shifted so they can become more effcient as well. When there are no freight trucks at the west marginal way/highland park intersection it flows like a pnw stream, when they show up its a slow slog where so many fewer citizens can get to their essential jobs and home from them. They do have a right to use the throughfare but they absolutely should not be given some special priority unless they plan on tolling that lane. 

  • Climate change is a real risk in the near term September 24, 2020 (7:09 pm)

    If earthquakes, whose frequency and impact are difficult to predict, are included in the risks, then I recommend extraordinary weather events (e.g., 40 days of rain or excessive heat) are included as risks as well.  It may seem funny or odd to some.  However, if you have been in Seattle during 40 days straight of rain and 30+ days of 90 degrees and above with poor air quality when smoke and inversions hit us, then you will know that extraordinary weather events are becoming more common and less extraordinary.  Human powered climate change, whose frequency and impact are difficult, seems to be an equal risk to the project on-time delivery as earthquakes.  Certainly, a “big one” of 6+ on the Richter scale may have a bigger impact than 45 days straight of rain but it is a risk none the less.

  • 1994 September 24, 2020 (8:40 pm)

    By the time SDOT gets this figured out “identification of and planning for implementation of traffic improvements that will improve safety and move more cars until the bridge is repaired or replaced,” the bridge will be operational again! How much time does SDOT need to figure out how to move traffic on an area of the peninsula (between WSB and Roxbury, and 14th Ave S and 1st Ave S bridges) that must be about 5 miles long by 2 miles wide? 

    • BBILL September 25, 2020 (9:55 am)

      How much time does SDOT
      need to figure out how to move traffic on an area of the peninsula
      (between WSB and Roxbury, and 14th Ave S and 1st Ave S bridges) that
      must be about 5 miles long by 2 miles wide?”
      Traffic *is* presently, like right now, moving in that area.

  • b September 25, 2020 (2:51 pm)

    Is there any reason why traffic was not measured on SW Holden? I work from home and the amount of noise is truly unnacceptable. Also as a local, crossing the road is nearly impossible even with the crosswalk. Between the constant honking and sirens it gets to be a bit too much. Good thing I don’t need to speak on many calls or anything.

    • BBILL September 25, 2020 (4:05 pm)

      “Also as a local, crossing the road is nearly impossible even with the crosswalk.” Pedestrians at intersections/crosswalks have the right-of-way (yes, yes, do not jump in front of cars, and if a driver is not slowing down, stopping, a pedestrian has a high chance of injury in the event of a collusion). If drivers are not following the basic driving laws, including yielding to pedestrians and/or noise emission standards, then such is a law enforcement issue, in that the drivers not stopping for pedestrians or driving vehicles that are too loud could/should be warned/cited for such.

  • Chemist September 25, 2020 (5:49 pm)

    I’m just a little frustrated that this is the second time the cost-benefits analysis has been a major bullet point in the meeting and they’re still educating the panel about parameters in the analysis.  The first meeting made clear that the experts have already got rough ideas about what options will cost, but they can’t really share those evolving figures  with the group because it would make it a public record available to everyone somehow?  A cost estimate that’s +- $300M or so would be helpful.

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