(Archived stream of Community Task Force meeting starts 5 minutes in)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
No date yet for Mayor Jenny Durkan‘s decision on the seven-months-closed West Seattle Bridge‘s future, but she has much to consider after spending about an hour listening to Community Task Force members’ opinions.
There was no clear consensus – some are supporting repair (the fastest option), some are supporting replacement, but even those in the latter camp acknowledged that it’s conditional on whether the newly revealed “rapid span replacement” possibility really could be delivered in the relatively lightning-fast time frame that consulting firm WSP suggested.
Wednesday afternoon’s discussion started with a technical Q&A that included more clarification about the feasibility of repairs. Here’s how it all went, and what’s next:
First – note that unlike previous reports, you won’t see highlights from a slide deck, because for this all-discussion, no-presentation meeting, there wasn’t one. “A little less Power-Pointing and a little more talking” is how SDOT communications director Michael Harold characterized the meeting at its start.
Actually, a lot more talking. The Community Task Force’s early meetings had almost no time for discussion, and that’s gradually changed.
As always, the CTF co-chairs – Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition executive director Paulina López and former mayor Greg Nickels – set the stage. As López noted, it’s “a critical time right now” for the decisionmaking process.
TECHNICAL Q&A: Before the mayor joined the meeting, the CTF had ~20 minutes for Q&A with Technical Advisory Panel co-chair Barbara Moffat as well as SDOT’s interim roadways structure director Matt Donahue, program manager Greg Izzo, and bridge-project leader Heather Marx.
Nickels asked Moffat what the TAP has to say about the “rapid replacement” superstructure replacement discussed during the last meeting (WSB coverage here). “It’s an exciting concept,” Moffat said. “Obviously it is not fully designed yet … what we can say (is) that it should be considered a subset of what you’re seeing as Alternative 4 in the (recently released Cost-Benefit Analysis),” which is what the Task Force was told last week too. Main point, it’s not an entirely new option – it’s a subset of the CBA’s Alternative 4, “superstructure replacement.” Is it feasible? “There are definitely challenges,” but any option has risks, “nothing the TAP has seen that would (suggest it’s) not possible at this time … Very nice-looking structure and we do believe it’s something that should be looked at further” if replacement is the choice and a Type/Size/ Location study ensues. She cautioned that it’s too soon to say if the suggestion of a two-year delivery timetable is realistic.
CTF member Anne Higuera of Ventana Construction (WSB sponsor) asked about page 59 in the CBA, which you can see here:
Higuera said that section suggested that immediate closures are considered more impactful than future closures (say, a post-repair replacement shutdown) because among other things, light rail would theoretically be available. “I didn’t get the impression the CBA had fully captured the cost to (residents, businesses, etc.).” In other words, the CBA suggests minimizing closure time.
Izzo said the total lifecycle costs helped bring the repair alternative impact closer to the superstructure-replacement option. Moffat added that “it’s critical for us to recognize” that speed of returning traffic to the bridge is not the only factor under consideration. “While (time) is a very important attribute, it’s not the only (important) one.”
Higuera responded by reminding them that “there’s a lot at stake” economically that the CBA doesn’t address.
West Seattle Chamber of Commerce‘s CTF rep Dan Austin asked Moffat why the TAP rated repair higher. “We looked at it more technically” than consultant WSP, she replied. “From a technical perspective, it’s repairable,” so it rated highest for them. “The CBA showed that (repair) is higher in the value index … followed very closely by Alternative 4 [superstructure replacement] … they are both feasible.”
West Seattle Transportation Coalition‘s Deb Barker said she concurred with Higuera and also pointed to CBA page 24, which suggested more study of economic impacts on marginalized communities. “It’s not like a smoking gun, but maybe that whole idea is more like a smoking car that needs to get our attention.” Barker also said she’d like to hear more about the reality of Sound Transit light rail’s availability after 2030, as ST itself hasn’t completed its rescheduling decisions. She also asked about the origins of the repair choice meaning the bridge would have to be replaced in the 2060s. Izzo said, “That’s based on the (estimated) life cycle of the bridge.” Is that realistic? Moffat said the TAP believes the 40-year projection is realistic – the rest of the bridge is in pretty good shape.
West Seattle Bridge NOW‘s Jen Temple observed that it’s hard to compare something with more information available – repair – with something like the superstructure replacement that requires a lot more investigation. Moffat said any new bridge design would require more work, and she reiterated that it’s a “good concept” that should indeed be investigated further IF replacement is the chosen pathway. It does not appear to have any “fatal flaws,” she added.
MAYOR LISTENS: Mayor Durkan joined a half-hour into the meeting. In her remarks, she said she’s getting briefings at least once a week on the bridge so mostly wanted to hear what Community Task Force members are thinking. She also said she’s been talking with state legislators. She continues to focus on three questions – how much is the chosen alternative going to cost (to build and maintain)? how long will it last? when can we get it open? “I know the impacts of (the bridge closure) cannot be overstated.”
She mentioned the federal declaration that Seattle is an “anarchist jurisdiction” could affect transportation grants, they learned earlier this month, and that’s part of why the city joined in a lawsuit challenging it.
Then, on to the listening. Community members on the CTF were given the chance to speak before the elected officials who are on the CTF.
Marci Carpenter from the Washington chapter of the National Federation for the Blind said she was leaning “repair” until the “rapid replacement” possibility surfaced. “Repair will get us open faster, but we don’t know how long the other parts of the bridge will last,” and maintenance money is a concern. So she’s now thinking replace is the best option, with the hope that the “rapid replacement” option will be doable.
Jill Mackie from Vigor said her company is a bridge fabricator as well as a marine fabricator, and a potential fabricator in the rapid-replacement option, which could generate local jobs, so they’re supporting that – or, if it proves infeasible, repairs, as speed is vital.
Diane Sosne of SEIU Healthcare 1199 said decisionmaking should be on a fast track. She also noted that this bridge “has broad implications for the entire area” beyond West Seattle – other people trying to “get in to do their jobs” as well as West Seattleites trying to “get out.” She also asked about the mayor’s timeline.
Austin said he supported job creation too but wanted to ‘save as many jobs in West Seattle” as possible – “we’re hurting on multiple fronts, we need the bridge restored as soon as possible.” As a result, he supports repair and considers the rapid replacement “a unicorn project” with unrealistic timelines. Also in terms of the cost, “$47 million to repair the bridge seems like a no-brainer to me.” His wife, a health-care worker, “is stuck in traffic three hours a day.” He concluded, “I hope we don’t all get distracted by a slick video … that’s a sales pitch to get us to buy (the “rapid span replacement”) bridge.”
Barker said she’s “a replacement fan, I’m not interested in kicking the can down the road. … I want to see more urgency … (regarding) permitting and funding.”
Highland Park neighborhood representative Colleen Desmond mentioned the dramatic traffic impacts that detours are having in her area. “The urgency for me is really about the people and how this is affecting” neighborhoods like hers, South Park, Georgetown, etc.
John Persak, from Georgetown and the maritime labor community, offered “points in favor of replacement” – the $47 million for repair, he assumed, would be local money, which means “$47 million less than we would be able to spend” on transportation maintenance elsewhere. Also: The risk – while the bridge is closed, people are coping, but repairs would mean a second shutdown somewhere down the road, maybe even three total shutdowns.
Temple said she agreed with Austin and said that WSBN is in favor of repairing – “it’s the only way to get us back to full mobility” in a realistic timeframe; the “rapid replacement” has too many question marks.
Higuera said she originally had started with seismic concerns “and then as we learned more and more about the options, I’ve come back around … (to believe) that repair is the best decision .. it buys us a lot of time to plan for a replacement … it’s hard to plan for a replacement right now with so many (involved) jurisdictions. … other alternatives have a lot of risks … I’m really concerned about what will happen to the West Seattle community if we don’t get moving again.”
Tim McConnell of West Seattle Runner (WSB sponsor) said he’s been going back and forth between repair and rapid replacement, but there are so many question marks about the latter, he’s currently supporting the former. “I understand that kicking the can down the road isn’t the best option, but we need to get everybody moving” as fast as possible.
Peter Goldman, environmental/bicycling advocate, said he’s “leaning toward replacement because we have to consider the long view.” He empathizes with people going through hardship now but … “I would urge you to use whatever power you have to get Sound Transit more involved in this decision … It makes no sense to me … that we can’t coordinate on (the river) crossing .. I would urge you to convene an emergency with Sound Transit …” to collaborate and “coordinate this decision.”
Katie Garrow of MLK Labor said “nothing has persuaded me so far that repair is the best option.” As a 32-year-old homeowner who hopes to spend the rest of her life in West Seattle, “I’m in here for the long game .. I don’t want to see the bridge shut down again in my lifetime.” She’s supporting replacement.
David Bestock of Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association echoed Goldman, “I think it’s silly not to be in coordination with Sound Transit,” so for that reason, he’s leaning toward replacement.
City Councilmember Lisa Herbold said she hears “every day from residents and businesses that are hurting … the sooner we can restore access,” the better. “Two years for a repair is shorter than other alternatives, the capital cost is (less), the council is poised to authorize $100 million in debt … the TAP’s confidence is strong that a repair will last 40 years is compelling … the council’s independent consultant also has (taken a look) and they seem to be in concurrence … on a repair.” Any replacement “would have to perform better … any option that takes six years is not viable.” Even the “rapid span replacement” has a lot of risks that she doesn’t think seem conquerable via political will. “I just don’t feel this latebreaking option gives me the confidence that this is the direction we dhould be going with.”
Seattle Port Commission president Peter Steinbrueck said it’s too soon to settle on one decision or the other. “It’s a marketing job to say we can do a rapid replacement in 3 years.” Nationwide, he said, there are tens of thousands of bridges in critical need. “If we think we can suddenly rise to the top as the #1 priority in the United States” for federal funding, think again, he said. “So let’s get sober about this.” Meantime, he said there’s a lot of discrepancy between opinions about how long a repaired bridge would last. “What matters most to businesses, residents, and the seaport, is to get capacity restored as quickly as possible.” He too raised questions about the reality of a suggested hyper-speedy environmental review process and the reality of funding for a full replacement. Plus, “we really ought to have a replacement that includes light rail.’ That would make environmental sense too.
Todd Carden of Elliott Bay Brewing said, “I am a firm believer in repairing the bridge now,” because of potential “devastating impacts” if it drags on too long. Communities impacted by detour traffic “can’t sustain this for years. … The environmental, social (costs) are huge .. it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. .. Work toward a future replacement, but get the ball rolling now.”
Mark Aytch from the Roxhill neighborhood said he would “lean strongly toward replacing the bridge … even though this seems like a curse, it’s also an opportunity” to incorporate light rail into the bridge, among other things.
Lora Radford of the West Seattle Junction Association said she had just met with her board, “12 very involved business owners” and nonprofit leaders, and from that, plus a survey of businesses, “overwhelmingly, the response is, please repair the bridge, let’s do it safely, and as quickly as possible,” then look at future replacement. “Let’s get the engine of commerce going again.”
Nickels observed, “There’s not a unanimous feeling … the overwhelming feeling (though) is that time is of the essence,” and waiting until 2026 (the potential timetable for a full replacement, or a non-“rapid” partial replacement) “really is too long.” He noted that he served on the Sound Transit West Seattle-Ballard Link Extension Stakeholder Advisory Group so is familiar with that project. “I did not favor repair when I started this process … now we’re hearing from credible sources that a (repair could last) as much as 40 years, and Sound Transit (could be) done by then, and we’d have a backup.” He says the “rapid replacement” needs a lot of vetting, as “intriguing” as it is.
López said the decision has to give equity the most weight, and also consider the human cost – including environmental justice.
Given a chance for closing comments before leaving the meeting, the mayor said she can’t give a date for her decision, but “we’re going to make it in a timeframe that we’re not going to lose time.” She said she agrees on coordinating with Sound Transit – which has all along planned to build its own bridge crossing the Duwamish for light rail – so “we will continue to push Sound Transit to see if there are some packages we could put together.” But there’s still a lot of questions about the light rail route itself (the alignment will not be finalized until environmental studies are complete in about a year and a half); Durkan said she feels its bridge needs to be “multi-modal.”
As for funding, Durkan responded to Steinbrueck’s concern, saying that while there are indeed many bridges in trouble nationwide, this is the only one of its kind that is out of service, and that would seem to confer extra urgency/importance. She said she originally felt replacement “wasn’t even on the table” because of the time frame, and because “we gotta get this thing up and going,” But the city also doesn’t want to make a mistake – it’s imperative to ensure that the decision is a lasting one, she said.
After she left, the meeting concluded with another chance for technical Q&A. Desmond asked about the approach structures. Marx said that as a reference to the rest of the bridge – such as the Spokane Street Viaduct (east of the 99 overpass) and Fauntleroy Expressway (the southwest end of the bridge), In theory, any replacement would be designed to not affect those structures. Marx also noted, “We are working with Sound Transit all the time” and warned that changes to the approach structures, adding to the project cost, would be needed if light rail were to be incorporated into this project. Moffat said that she was project manager on those approach structures, plus the 4th Avenue offramp, and those have already been retrofitted seismically – “that’s one less component to have to deal with in a seismic event. … The approaches are resilient, at this point.”
When would repairs be completed? SDOT says the current projected timeline is “mid-2022.”
Meantime, Marx took issue with the “unicorn” notion about the “rapid replacement.” “Replacing bridges rapidly is a thing that gets done – look at Minnesota, Genoa.” But she acknowledged that the idea of a fast environmental-impact study did indeed carry risks.
Moffat interjected that the “rapid span replacement” concept addresses some of the technical concerns the TAP had with “how is this going to work?” regarding a superstructure replacement. “It is far beyond what we originally had considered.”
Temple said that regarding Marx’s mention of the Genoa and Minnesota bridges, “one of the reasons rapid replacement feels like a unicorn is that we heard very early on that we aren’t Genoa, we aren’t Minnesota.” Marx said, “Early on, the question was, ‘why can’t we just do that?’ They had, like, federal money flowing in the next day. We don’t. It’s still going to require us to put the money together, it’s going to require … political will and community will.”
Toward the idea of fast permitting, Izzo added, “Our goal with rapid-span replacement is to avoid in-water work … which is often a complication with permitting.”
WHAT’S NEXT: The co-chairs are gathering members’ written comments for the mayor by week’s end. Her decision might happen before the CTF’s next scheduled meeting November 18th. Or, might not.
ADDED THURSDAY EVENING: Though the meeting did not include an update on current bridge work, the mayor mentioned in passing that the stabilization work had encountered a few challenges in recent days. No one asked a followup question about that, so we asked SDOT post-meeting to explain, and also asked for the newest timetable for the release of that stuck Pier 18 bearing. The reply:
Contractors are completing final adjustments and checks before cementing the temporary steel restrainer bracket into place at Pier 18. This bracket will help stabilize the bridge during the release of the restrained bearing at Pier 18. Last week, our contractor encountered some minor challenges while threading steel strands through ducts, which we have to complete before we can begin the Pier 18 release. This issue was resolved with only minor schedule impacts, putting us in a good place to begin the actual bearing release work next week.