VIDEO: Recaps, reiterations, no revelations in latest West Seattle Bridge Town Hall

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

When will the mayor decide on repairing or replacing the eight-months-closed West Seattle Bridge?

Tonight’s “Town Hall” about the bridge didn’t answer that, nor did it include any other significant new information. It provided a recap of what’s been done in recent months, repeated insistence that the decision delay isn’t harming progress, and 45 minutes of Q&A on well-trod ground. If you missed it, here’s the video:

The online event was moderated by Department of Neighborhoods director Andrés Mantilla, a West Seattle resident. Here’s how it unfolded:

Mayor Jenny Durkan said the Town Hall was being held because “every time we approach a decision like this, we need as much community input as possible.” She said she already has heard “a sense of urgency” about how important the bridge is. She also acknowledged that the Community Task Force has done “a lot of work.” She promised “in the weeks ahead, we’re going to have a very clear path forward” regarding the bridge’s future. And she acknowledged the closure’s impact on Duwamish Valley communities of color as well as on West Seattle bridge users.

Then came something of a valedictory for the CTF co-chairs: Former mayor Greg Nickels said the process has not slowed down the work of getting toward the bridge’s future. Paulina López, executive director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, said that safety and health are important priorities as well as mobility. She also acknowledged and thanked the dozens of CTF members. Here’s the roster, from the meeting’s slide deck:

López was followed by SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe, also a West Seattle resident, who noted attendance at that point was showing as more than 300 people. He recapped how we got to this point, insisting that the closure was not the result of “a maintenance (problem).” He also recapped the two major stabilization milestones reached in recent weeks – releasing Pier 18 bearings and installation of post-tensioning (steel cables).

The stabilization was necessary regardless of whether the next step is repair or replacement, Zimbabwe said. Each of the new cables is holding 280,000 pounds of tension, he added. He then recapped the Reconnect West Seattle traffic-mitigation project to date. He then touched on low-bridge access – no changes, automated enforcement still starting soon:

What’s next? Zimbabwe reiterated that they’re continuing to work on planning both repair/replace so no time would be lost. He said repair would enable reopening the bridge sometine in 2022.

Repair is roughly estimated at $50 million. “We have an older structure, we’ve seen the bridge respond well to what we’ve done so far, but this scenario would (run the risk) of another unplanned shutdown..” He also noted that closeup inspections would be required at least every six months for the next 5 years after repairs, requiring some lane closures, and also access inside the bridge.

If replacement were chosen – in the not-yet-thoroughly-vetted “rapid span replacement” scenario recently introduced – it would cost about half a billion upfront and could be complete in 2023 – he stressed that this would give more “certainty” about the future than repairing the current bridge.

The ability to speed up the timeline would be dependent on permits and procurement, among other things. He said the proposal for offsite fabrication has been proven elsewhere and they’re researching now to see if it would work here. He wrapped up by again insisting that – as the City Council was told last week – no time is being lost absent a longterm decision; the paths would have to “diverge” by next spring. And he recapped that non-city funding would have to be sought, and that tolling would be studied.

Q&A: This started after about 40 minutes. First: Can the low bridge be opened to all on weekends, or can restrictions be loosened at other times? Zimbabwe said that’s being studied by the CTF low-bridge subcommittee among others. He says opening the low bridge at 9 pm always leads to a big spike so at other times they would have to be sure that emergency and freight access would not be hampered. Automated enforcement might “open up those possibilities.”

Why isn’t more attention being paid to North Delridge/Delridge regarding issues caused by the closure? Zimbabwe noted that the RapidRide H Line project obviously is affecting the area and was planned “before the bridge crisis” but they tried to divide it into pieces “to minimize the impact over time”; they’re hopeful that the new RapidRide line will help with mobility. (Editor’s note: It’s scheduled to launch in September 2021.) He said Reonnect West Seattle has some North Delridge projects too.

Will there be more support for federal funding with the change in presidential) administration? Did the lag in the emergency declaration cost the city some time in seeking that? Mayor Durkan said no, there was no time lost; regarding the former, she’s talking to congressional reps and the governor.. “We’re actively making sure that when there is federal funding available, we will hopefully be near the head of the line for it.”

Is light rail still being considered for the Avalon area given the bridge failure? Yes, Sound Transit continues its studies, though the timetable remains uncertain because of the pandemic-caused financial crunch, Zimbabwe replied. If the bridge is repaired, there’s no chance of integrating ST, he said, but in a replacement scenario, maybe. Durkan, who’s on the Sound Transit Board, said they’ll be taking up schedule delays in December. She said that neither repair or replacement would enable integrating light rail – the latter because “rapid span replacement” would reuse existing supports.

What about the lowering of speed limits happening around the area? Zimbabwe said SDOT is reducing them around the city as part of the Vision Zero safety effort, and even a slight reduction and increase in signage can bring down the number of crashes and fatalities. He says reducing crashes is good when access is reduced, as with the bridge closure, and recalled a recent West Marginal crash that jammed things up.

When is the repair-or-replace decision going to be made and what happens in the next six months? Zimbabwe yet again reiterated that “we haven’t lost time on any pathway we’ve been on since the bridge has been closed.” He also warned of substantial “risks” – even if they choose repairs, they won’t be certain until the last minute how the bridge will respond to them.

Next question was about maintenance funding and whether there were previous plans for replacing the bridge. Zimbabwe said the cracking first detected in 2013 gave no hint that replacement or major repairs would be needed so they didn’t have plans for that – the bridge overall was in better condition than many others around the city.. “This was not on the concern list.” He also noted that the March discovery was made during an inspection that was happening sooner than required. The mayor then noted that they tapped funding immediately when the closure need was announced, because they needed to ensure the bridge wouldn’t collapse. “Once the bridge failed, our ability to repair it would have been greatly diminished.”

Another question sought more details on the lifetime cost suggested for a repaired bridge – where did that sum come from, does it include a future replacement? Zimbabwe said yes – and beyond, projecting costs/value as far out as 2100. The mayor added that the same kind of lifetime-cost projection is what made the immersed-tube tunnel concept seem infeasible.

What about more-frequent bus service? Zimbabwe thanked voters for their recent approval of Proposition 1, which buys more bus service, and reminded everyone that it specifically includes money for some West Seattle service additions because of the bridge crisis. No specifics, though.)

What about increased Water Taxi service? They’re still talking to Metro, he said, looking ahead to increased demand as traffic increases. The mayor added, “We’re looking at how we can expand that service” and how all forms of mobility can be expanded “until we get this bridge open.” (No specifics with this either, though.)

What about ensuring diversity of workforce on whatever project is chosen? The mayor said that’s a priority, and they’re talking to tradespeople/organizations to ensure it happens.

Has the city talked to major employers about West Seattle workers’ ability to work remotely while the bridge is out? Zimbabwe said yes, they’ve been talking to both employers and employees. He noted that the governor’s new guidelines continue to urge remote work.

Another question suggested that SDOT had at one point said the progression would be stabilization to repair, even if replacement was the pathway after that. They had not (having covered this since day one, we can confirm that). But, Zimbabwe added, “in a repair scenario, we would still need to plan for an eventual replacement” (that has always been the case).

What are the criteria for commercial vehicles to access the low bridge? 10,000 GVW is the threshold, Zimbabwe said. “We have had some limited exemptions for Harbor Island workers and businesses through West Seattle organizations” (the Chamber of Commerce and WS Junction Association). They’ve been using passes but the camera enforcement will enable more flexibility.

Back to funding. “Are there any limitations to federal funding that would require a certain course of action?” The mayor said, “it depends on what’s available, and the timing.” She said they don’t believe Congress will take up infrastructure funding until the middle of next year. But, she said, it’s clear that having a bridge that’s out will be a better shot at funding than one that just needs repair. She also noted that Kentucky has a big new bridge outage and that’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell‘s state. (Here’s what we think she was referring to; it appears to be a short-term problem.)

What about using a car ferry from, say, Fauntleroy to downtown? Zimbabwe said they’ve talked to Washington State Ferries but there’s “very limited dock space at the ferry terminal downtown” as well as challenges in Fauntleroy so “we haven’t quite cracked the nut yet of how to utilize ferries.” He also repeated that many people who use Southworth/Vashon to Fauntleroy are going south, NOT downtown. The mayor also noted that ferry speeds mean not that much time would be saved if water travel were used instead.

What about the condition of the 1st Ave. S. Bridge and South Park Bridge? Neither is a city structure, it was noted; as we first reported last month, the former will have some southbound lane closures early next year. The South Park Bridge, county-owned and city-operated, is much newer and in much better condition.

What’s the plan to address economic impacts to businesses and residents? The mayor acknowledged the new COVID restrictions are “devastating” to many, but “we are working with the governor’s office to see if we can get additional state funding” to help businesses as well as rent relief for workers, among other things. (Not just West Seattle, though.) As for whether the economic impact has been analyzed, Zimbabwe pointed to the Cost-Benefit Analysis taking on a bit of that, but said the COVID impacts have complicated any such analysis right now – so much uncertainty.

What is the upcoming community-engagement plan and the Community Task Force’s future? Zimbabwe noted the CTF has at least two more meetings coming up, one of which will address the group’s future “regardless of pathway.” He sees a potential role throughout the bridge closure, if the members are up for it.

In closing remarks, the mayor said the CTF members are split “roughly 50-50” between replace and repair. She reiterated that she knows the closure is a hardship, and that they’ve looked at “additional solutions” for restoring mobility – even putting in a “temporary structure,” which turned out to be infeasible because the Duwamish “is a working river.” She said she’s tapping into “what the experts believe and what the community believes” regarding a path forward. She says she’s getting briefed at least weekly and in contact with many others. “We are all in this together … as much as it feels like West Seattle is ‘an accidental island’ … this is one of the essential corridors” for the entire city, not just the peninsula, affecting thousands of jobs.

The questions that weren’t answered will be answered by email (if submitted that way) and in upcoming posts, it was promised. Heres what else SDOT says is happening next:

The mayor is scheduled to talk to the CTF on Thursday at 3:30 pm (you can watch here).

47 Replies to "VIDEO: Recaps, reiterations, no revelations in latest West Seattle Bridge Town Hall"

  • Blbl November 16, 2020 (9:32 pm)

    Holy cow, what a colossal waste. “What about increased water taxi service?” “We’re looking into that.”  Literally the same questions with no answers 8 months later. Shameful. 

    • Roms November 16, 2020 (10:06 pm)

      They’re taking a look at every option. Nothing is off the table. No, wait, they said that 8 months ago also, and every now and then since the closure happened…But hey, they implemented dozens of projects: Stay Healthy streets (yes, that’s part of the projects they list as a remediation to the bridge closure), they did some stripping here and there, they planned reducing some 2-lane avenues in 1-lane avenue, etc. They’re doing all they can…

    • caws November 16, 2020 (11:30 pm)

      “We’re looking into that” is Drukan’s answer to literally EVERYTHING. No accountability. No follow-up. Do-nothing mayor.

    • So done with this mayor November 17, 2020 (12:39 am)

      As far the water taxi goes, IT NEEDS CONNECTING BUS SERVICE!!! Not a 12 person shuttle van. And let’s start enforcing fair payments and mask use on all METRO transportation.Lower the fare for the water taxi to 2.75 and allow transfers, add a park and ride lot at the boat launch. Lastly run from 5:30 am until 8:30 pm Monday-Friday&nbsp.

      • Anne November 17, 2020 (6:50 am)

        I like you ideas! (Would move the park & ride a bit south past Jack Block -boat launch should stay for boaters/fishermen. ) 

      • Foop November 17, 2020 (7:09 am)

        Why charge enforce fare? I’m confused about what’s you’re saying. They already do take care again…

  • KT November 16, 2020 (9:53 pm)

    Wow.  Bridge closed March 23rd.  Today’s date November 16th.  And our Mayor said “in the weeks ahead, we’re going to have a very clear path forward”.  Wow.  

  • L November 16, 2020 (10:02 pm)

    The same chatter for the past 8 months.   No results and no answers.  There is no way this endless talk is not slowing down the repair process.   Repair is 50 million replace is 500 million.   That’s all we need to know START THE REPAIR IMMEDIATELY AND STOP WASTING TIME!!!

  • Roms November 16, 2020 (10:15 pm)

    So, they can:- Fix the bridge SDOT-style quick (at least a year instead of what should be a few months) at a lower cost, or:- Replace it, for $500 million, which will take several years of full closure (because they’ll be late, let’s be honest: the work that has just been completed should have been done months ago), require a toll, and, let’s be honest a second time, higher taxes because the city just doesn’t have the money, nor the state…I wouldn’t be surprised they choose the replace option given the city’s track record at handling everything poorly. But maybe Durkan can try to make the right decision for once, and not be fooled by a biased study which extends to 2100 to compare apples with carrots? Maybe someone will be smart and realize that, if you extend the study by more years to cover the replacement of the replacement, it will be more expensive, etc. etc. etc.

  • Frank November 16, 2020 (10:54 pm)

    This is absolutely the most ridiculous waste of tax payers money.  Let’s keep talking about it for two more years and then decide. I guess they don’t care if we have a major emergency and it takes 40 minutes to get to the hospital.  Get it fixed or more people will be selling there homes and getting out of West Seattle. 

  • Emi November 17, 2020 (12:19 am)

    The Mayor says the task force is 50/50 on a repair or new bridge… So, who on the task force is for the repair vs a new bridge. Like everyone else appreciate what you’re trying to do to help, but we  didn’t vote you into office. We have a right to know which one of you are for what-not pointing fingers, but  just want to confirm you’re determining that what’s best because you’re really reaching out, vs your personal preference. We deserve to know. 

    • WSB November 17, 2020 (12:43 am)

      That’s on record.
      20 Task Force members (of those listed on the slide for this meeting, 18 of the 25 community reps, 2 of the “ex-officio”) commented to the mayor in this meeting I covered 2 1/2 weeks ago.
      I just went back and counted.
      8 repair, 8 replace, 4 noncommittal.

      • Anne November 17, 2020 (6:53 am)

        Well guess I’d like to know why 4 are noncommittal-do they not like any of options-still not convinced either way? 

        • Emi November 17, 2020 (8:33 am)

          Exactly…..something this critical effecting your fellow community members deserves a decision. If you are still not sure, and sit on this task force, please go away and stick to decisions about pizza toppings. 

          • CMT November 17, 2020 (11:01 am)

            Exactly!  Like, this is literally the only point of the task force – what more would you need to know to make a decision.

  • Ed November 17, 2020 (12:44 am)

    There are only two options. Make a damn decision and let’s move forward. 

  • FixTheBridge November 17, 2020 (2:16 am)

    Class action lawsuit. Seattle will do nothing until they face a lawsuit from our community.  West Seattle truly deserves compensation at this point having to wait at least 9 months but let’s say longer for Durkan to fix a needed bridge. We must sue Durkan to get her to do any work. 

    • Ron Swanson November 17, 2020 (10:56 am)

      Everyone suggesting this should really google “sovereign immunity.” It isn’t going to work.

    • WS guy November 17, 2020 (12:11 pm)

      So Seattle taxpayers should sue the government for compensation… who is going to end up footing the bill for that? 🤔

  • Smittytheclown November 17, 2020 (5:42 am)

    Why is this even a debate?  50 million ready late 2021 or 500 million ready after 2023.  They are sandbagging the repair date and painting a rosy picture on replace date.  There is something else going on here, just not sure what. 

    • Blbl November 17, 2020 (10:01 am)

      She’s waiting to see how much federal money she can get out of the new Biden administration. Why repair when she get a shiny new bridge paid for by someone else?

  • sigh guy November 17, 2020 (6:27 am)

    Orrrrrr, and hear me out on this, what if we just extended the monorail from downtown to West Seattle? I hear it worked out really well for North Haverbrook!

  • Red November 17, 2020 (6:37 am)

    For Those of us who Work On Harbor Island Why are we required to go all the way around on Marginal when we live literally across the bridge? I have seen people from my workplace pull out some paper and flash it to the police to use the Spokane bridge into West Seattle what is this waver? 

    • JVP November 17, 2020 (10:58 am)

      It takes you an extra 20-30 minutes to get where you’re going. It takes us an extra 20-30 minutes for us to get where we’re going.  I don’t understand how you are facing more hardship that any of the rest of us.

  • SuperAwesome November 17, 2020 (6:50 am)

    Shocking lack of answers on traffic mitigation solutions.  No park and rides planned, no water taxi service increases.  It’s like they are waiting to see how bad the traffic is post-covid to figure out what they need to do and that’s just unacceptable.   

  • West Seattle Lurker November 17, 2020 (7:04 am)

    Has any decision been made on the funding that will allow Seattle to repair or replace the main arterial bridge? I don’t think they want to make a commitment either way until funding is secured. 

    • Blbl November 17, 2020 (10:05 am)

      Yup. Make us suffer while she waits to see if someone else will pay the bill for SDOT’s lack of maintenance. 

  • Bronson November 17, 2020 (7:08 am)

    The way they kept stressing the need to review how the bridge acts in cold weather makes it most likely that they won’t be making a decision until Q1, particularly since it is not until then that the timelines begin to be impacted. Mind you, it rarely gets below freezing here, which Sam Zimbabwe mentioned as a criteria of the analysis. Honestly, it feels like they are just trying to wear us down, get us closer to 2023 and the magical, fantastical, unicorn that is rapid replacement, then make the decision to replace. Then, they can say it’s only 2 years away! I also asked the question about the cost for repair including replacement. I have an MBA and a finance degree, so have a decent understanding about budgeting and projections. Sam’s convoluted answer about the extension of the timeline to 2100 (for cost projection purposes) is a bunch of bunk. In the midst of his answer, he finally (during the Town Hall) admitted that the $916M included the replacement. So, in other words, we are comparing apples to carrots as someone previously said. Additionally, if you look at what is included in their maintenance costs slide, it is really hard to believe the numbers they are throwing around. I appreciate the need to make the right decision, but this is beginning to feel like SDOT/Sam is pushing for a replacement in order to leave some type of “legacy.” The fact is, the bridge has a 95% chance of successfully being repaired and lasting for 40 years. In 40 years, we may all be traveling via hyperloop, flying cars, or whatever, so don’t saddle this region with a bridge it may not need after 40 years. 

    • sna November 17, 2020 (9:22 am)

      Sam and SDOT are really mis-characterizing the two options as you note.  Repair is spoken about in the most pessimistic manner and they have implied by omission several times that the $916M total repair cost is driven by higher maintenance (or at least not clarified it includes a new bridge in 40 years).  Then the unicorn 3 year replacement option with no real underlying research is juxtaposed with the dooms-day repair and fail potential that engineers have said is a very low possibility.  I just feel like they’re not being honest here and it’s quite frustrating.  

      • Chemist November 17, 2020 (2:31 pm)

        The more this decision gets pushed back, I wish the folks at SDOT had just added a detailed analysis of the late-breaking “rapid replace” plan to the CBA instead of just hand-waving and saying it’s “like rebuild option 4” when clearly there’s a lot more risk that it won’t be built rapidly and has more constructability risks at 0% design.  If it’d take a month to have a CBA analysis specifically tuned for this rapid replace plan, it might be worth it.

    • WestSeattleVoter November 17, 2020 (1:35 pm)

      If it does not get below freezing this year does that mean SDOT will have to wait another year until it does get below freezing?  They are so obviously lying about this whole thing it’s a joke.  

  • GF November 17, 2020 (7:18 am)

    Democracy is messy and hard. This decision is a democratic decision. Not easy – and that is why all the time for deciding repair or replace. Everyone continue to participate in these meetings and voice your opinions and the best outcome will prevail. But be patient. Democracy is messy and hard.

    • Kyle November 17, 2020 (8:25 am)

      I would agree with you, if we had a functioning bridge. Then yes, let’s take our time and follow the Seattle process. However, I thought an emergency was declared due to “residents, workers, and businesses having been deeply impacted by the closure of the West Seattle Bridge – the City’s busiest bridge”. Instead of moving quickly we got a 30+ member task force, and we’re 6+ months in with no decision timeline announced.

    • Derek November 17, 2020 (8:26 am)

      Not really… This isn’t a democracy at all. This is a decision made by elected representatives. “Messy and hard” is the lamest excuse for not having a decision made in over 8 months. 

    • Blbl November 17, 2020 (10:11 am)

      The democratic process occurred when we elected city leadership.  We did our job by voting, now they have to do theirs. 

  • MEET November 17, 2020 (7:22 am)

    I know lets have another meeting to discuss what we will do in the next meeting

  • Derek November 17, 2020 (8:06 am)

    Durkan might be the worst mayor this city has ever had. Just awful on every level and not qualified at all. Repair the bridge or make rapid replace get done in the same timespan. It’s a NO BRAINER. Has she not had to sit in the traffic between here and South Park and I-5 yet? I watched SDOT get the big interchange in Bellevue done in under a year. They need three years to make a small 0.1 mil span? Give me a break!

    • Trickycoolj November 17, 2020 (10:40 am)

      You watched WSDOT do the interchange in Bellevue. Seattle DOT had nothing to do with Bellevue. WSDOT has nothing to do with our bridge. 

  • AL November 17, 2020 (9:02 am)

    Agreed Derek!  I think the Seattle Mayor’s continually go down hill.  I wasn’t sure it could get any worse than the pedophile- but it has.   The City Council is the worst- she is a quite the politician with her canned answers and no solution.   Another person in the govt. that doesn’t care about our city.   This is such BS.   This bridge needs to be repaired!!!! Durkan are you not the Mayor?  Can you not make a decision?

  • Steve Willie November 17, 2020 (10:07 am)

    The politicians and their lapdogs at the City will do anything to obscure the fact that the cracks could have been caused by poor maintenance.  When they deny it, they never cite any actual engineering analysis of the possible effects from poor maintenance such as the stuck bridge bearing.   The entire purpose of a bridge bearing is to allow for sufficient movement in the structure to prevent the excessive forces which are caused by thermal expansion and contraction.  During the time when the bearing was stuck, what forces were imposed on the structure in excess of what it was designed for?  It appears that the defective bridge bearing was missed in multiple inspections, whereas bearings are one of the important areas to be inspected during such inspections.  Who missed this? I don’t have a dog in this hunt but somebody should ask these questions and stay with it until there are clear answers.  The City team is setting itself up for a repeat failure. Good luck with that.

  • KT November 17, 2020 (10:11 am)

    Zimbabwe yet again insisted that the closure was not the result of “a maintenance (problem).”  Here’s a new drinking game to help pass your Covid stay-at-home … every time Zimbabwe denies any failure of SDOT take a drink.  Watch out, you’ll be drunk in no time at all.  

  • Will S. November 17, 2020 (10:23 am)

    repair the bridge, replace the mayor

  • JVP November 17, 2020 (11:05 am)

    Dear mayor Durkan, if you want to get reelected, you better get on with finding a way to repair the bridge quickly and effectively. It’s your job – do it. This is what leadership is all about. West Seattle is 1/5 of the city, and you’re quickly losing our support.

  • Sparky November 17, 2020 (11:31 am)

    We have a do-nothing mayor and a do-nothing council.They’ll pass a meaningless resolution urging India to follow their own constitution, but those of us that have real immediate needs of our government? With apologies to Seinfeld, it’s “No Bridge for You!”

  • FixTheBridge November 17, 2020 (1:23 pm)

    West Seattle March Over the Bridge?  Maybe we can get some national media sunlight on this horrid and corrupt process?

  • Agatewoodperson November 17, 2020 (2:24 pm)

    What a nothingburger of a meeting. So no progress at all on planning or actually doing any additional traffic mitigation?That should be reason enough for west seattle residents to support repair over replacement . Notice the rapid replacement date says “as early as 2023” – but they are solidly committing to “2022” for repair. They’re already setting us up for the dates to slide well out past 2023 on replacement .  

  • Mickymse November 17, 2020 (3:03 pm)

    My goodness with the conspiracies around here, and the unwillingness for some people to actually pay attention to what is going on. Are y’all Trump voters who believe the election was stolen too? Watch the damn video — where Zimbabwe tells you everything that has been worked on the past few months and how none of this is affecting any timelines yet for repair or replace. The City has always said that stabilization has to happen first. And if you’re having an emergency or already in an ambulance — you can go over the lower bridge. That is why everyone needs to stop CHEATING and driving over it so we don’t damage that bridge too. And Mayor-speak aside, SDOT has talked in a few meetings around the community about plans for buses and water taxi and other mitigation that will happen as we come out of COVID and ridership increases again. Some of that was also dependent on funding from the STBD — so thank you everyone for voting to renew with Prop 1!

Sorry, comment time is over.