By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The “repair now, replace later” vs. “replace now” decision for the West Seattle Bridge is now as little as a month away.
Today’s West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force meeting explored how the in-progress Cost-Benefit Analysis will “shape” that decision.
But the CTF briefings/discussion also spent significant time on the advisory group’s other focus – how people are supposed to get to and from the peninsula until that connection is restored. And when the “Reconnect West Seattle” plan hit the spotlight, one previously undiscussed element did too. Here’s our video of (all but the last few minutes of) the meeting:
Ahead, the highlights, including some of the slides (see the full deck here):
RECONNECT WEST SEATTLE: The plan has been finalized, says SDOT (though they haven’t released a copy publicly yet). Colin Drake from SDOT and Danielle Friedman from the Department of Neighborhoods led the meeting discussion. The key points:
The initial investment in community projects: $6 million, said Drake – $1 million each of the four neighborhoods that were part of the project-prioritization process, and $1 million each on freight and bicycles, with the understanding that more is to come. We hadn’t heard about the Home Zone program before; if you hadn’t either, here’s an explanation – it’s a “holistic” way to look at neighborhood traffic calming. Friedman said it will be expanded to Highland Park/Riverview/Roxhill/Georgetown, South Park, and Georgetown.
The plan’s overall goal: To figure out how to get as many people across the Duwamish River without the bridge as were able to cross the river before the bridge closed, and to reduce “environmental injustice” in the areas where traffic has increased dramatically because of detouring. The neighborhood/mode plans are only the start. Drake also noted that the plan will be updated quarterly. Friedman stressed that “community input” will continue and that they’ll continue “meeting with community leaders and groups” to figure out how that will work.
Community Task Force co-chair Greg Nickels expressed concern about one project planned for this year, from/for the freight list – creating a NB freight-only lane on backup-beset West Marginal Way SW north of Highland Park Way. “I think it sends exactly the wrong message to the community … reducing capacity” when community members are looking for more capacity. (The project is described on the full freight-projects list as “West Marginal Way: between Highland [Park Way] and the 5-way intersection, consider options for do-not-block the box hatching at major driveways used by large trucks, and for restriping WMW so that large trucks can use a center turn lane to insert themselves into moving traffic. Ensure business access and traffic flow.”)
“If that’s not the way” to address West Marginal problems, “we need more discussion with the community,” Drake replied.
Duwamish Longhouse director Jolene Haas also brought up West Marginal, saying that the Longhouse Safety Project – crossing improvements by the center – had previously been omitted from “Reconnect” discussion and she had been told West Marginal was being discussed separately, so, she wondered, why is there suddenly a West Marginal project on the list? “That’s a good question,” replied Drake, saying West Marginal was mostly not on the list previously because it was “not on the survey.” (Freight projects were discussed in a separate process.)
We’ve also been told that West Marginal-related issues would be addressed in a “separate” plan at some point in the future.
Meantime, City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, one of several elected officials on the CTF, said the projects overall need a better communication “loop” for the community – not just knowing comments have been received, but hearing what will (or won’t) be done about them.
COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS: This is the process that will “shape” to an official decision of “repair or replace” in October. As previously reported, engineers believe repairs are POSSIBLE – but the Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) will determine if they are FEASIBLE, based on a variety of factors. The presentation and discussion was a deep dive into what the CBA involves (highly technical at points – you can see it in its entirety starting at 47:40 into our video above).
Greg Banks of consulting firm WSP took the reins here. For all the immersed-tube tunnel advocates, he noted that three versions of it are among possible bridge replacements being studied in the CBA:
Banks also went into specifics of how the CBA will weigh attributes – of that and other options previously spotlighted:
Banks’ presentation went into copious details of how the Cost-Benefit Analysis is looking at repair vs. replacement, including costs, durations, etc. No estimates on any of that yet – but that’s what you’ll see when it’s ready. An example of a potential risk noted along the way: If the bridge is replaced, the clearance might have to be higher, which would in turn affect the approaches – but he clarified that this is hypothetical, as are many of the possible risks they are considering:
Banks stressed that it’s a “living, breathing document,” so what you’re seeing in the preview slides isn’t necessarily what will be in the final CBA. Here’s what happens next:
In comments along the way as well as Q&A: Labor reps advocated again for the CBA to address workforce effects. SDOTs bridge-project leader Heather Marx said construction jobs are already taken into effect but bigger economic impacts are something that can’t be included in the relatively quick timeframe with which they’re working. Overall, “this is primarily an engineering exercise,” she stressed.
One previously voiced concern was resurfaced by Austin: Whether the CBA would really be complete without a season of evaluating the bridge’s response to winter weather. Banks said there’ll be a contingency taking into effect how the bridge responds to the stabilization work that’s being done now, and he said “analytics done to date” are giving them information already on how the bridge reacts to various things – such as what they learned when the work platforms were hoisted. That response matched what their modeling enabled them to predict, and so they are using existing thermal data to anticipate how the bridge will handle the winter.
What about seismic danger? asked Amanda Kirk from West Seattle Bridge Now. The bridge was designed in a time when there was already a lot of seismic understanding, said SDOT’s Matt Donahue, so that’s not a “risky” aspect of the potential project right now.
In response to a question from CTF member Deb Barker from the West Seattle Transportation Coalition and Morgan Community Association, Marx said the CBA is a highly technical “deliberative’ document so they’re not going public with more of it along the way. Port Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck wondered about “fatal flaws” in the immersed-tube-tunnel idea, such as clearances and “dredging of contaminated soils.” SDOT’s Marx said, “There isn’t anything that would prevent us from doing an immersed-tube tunnel, but there are a number of challenges.” WSP’s Banks said those would include where the segments would be cast, and “all of the utilities running through this area, how are you going to make those connections” as well as port and railroad connection impacts.
How will we know if the stabilization work is working out? asked Anne Higuera of Ventana Construction (WSB sponsor). There’s some load on the bridge daily, such as those work platforms, said Banks, but he reiterated that the stabilization work being done now is not meant to return the bridge to service – it’s just literally to stabilize it. State Rep. Eileen Cody wondered about the document mentioning the higher clearance, and that is when Marx clarified that the Coast Guard COULD require a higher clearance, not that it HAS – so that’s a risk that has to be taken into effect. As for possible Sound Transit light-rail inclusion in a replacement, they’re still talking to ST, said Marx, but “that’s more of a policy question” than an engineering question. Barker asked a followup about what would happen over shore areas where the immersed-tube tunnel would begin – would there be new housing, or? “That’s a land-use question” for the future,, said Marx.
Summarizing it all, SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe stressed that this is a process, “not a machine that spits out an answer” and so they want to hear more from Task Force members about this information’s value, or lack of same.
STABILIZATION UPDATE: Marx began the meeting with a quick update on this work, explaining that the epoxy being used protects the steel that’s inside the concrete – it’s not a “repair” component. She showed photos, including the work zone inside the bridge:
SDOT is continuing to publish weekly stabilization-work updates on Fridays – the newest one is here.
LOW-BRIDGE ACCESS POLICY: Marx had an update on this:
There’s a change in need for low-bridge access: Longshore workers now do NOT need regular access to T-5, since Matson‘s move to Tacoma. So the city is now looking at phased use of automated enforcement once that starts – as previously mentioned, overlapping camera use with continued use of police. SDOT is proposing a Community Task Force subcommittee to deal specifically with access questions. Marx said that group “would sit at the table with staff to determine how things would change once automated enforcement is in place” as well as what would happen when cargo calls resume at Terminal 5 next year. It was clarified that the business community and maritime community already are already working together, per CTF members John Persak, maritime rep, and Dan Austin, business rep; small businesses already have accessed to some shared low-bridge passes via the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce and West Seattle Junction Association.
NEXT MEETING: The task force will meet again at noon September 23rd – which will be exactly six months after the bridge’s sudden shutdown.