By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force‘s first meeting of 2021 was far more of a briefing than a discussion, two hours stuffed with information tidbits on almost every bridge-related topic.
When the volunteer advisory group’s members agreed to keep meeting even after Mayor Jenny Durkan announced her decision to have the closed high bridge repaired rather than replaced, that was one major role they agreed to keep – community information conduits. So as co-chair Greg Nickels described it, what happened at Wednesday’s meeting was the start of their “second phase of work”; co-chair Paulina López also urged CTF members to let them know how they’d like to “devote (their) energy … to next steps.”
The meeting video is above, and the full slide deck is here; below, highlights of what the group heard:
BRIDGE UPDATES: The high bridge has now been closed for almost 10 months. Project leader Heather Marx said stabilization work – a necessary first step no matter whether repairs or replacement had been chosen – is done and now they’re monitoring the bridge’s stability. She showed a schedule for both high- and low-bridge work ahead:
The point of saying that both are pre-30-percent design (until next month) is an explanation for why time and money estimates are both very loose. They’re currently developing documents for the contractor selection that’ll be out in March. Why will the same contractor handle both bridges? asked City Councilmember Lisa Herbold. Marx said. “It’s similar work, and it’s kind of specialized,” adding “this could save time and maybe money.” Her presentation dwelled more on what needs to be done on the low bridge than the high bridge; she noted that some of the work was planned before the high bridge was closed. It’s planned for strengthening, control-systems work, and replacement of one of the two cylinders that enable the bridge to swing open.
All the low-bridge work will be done by the end of the year. (A “determination of non significance” decision related to the work, part of the permit process, was published earlier this week.)
LOW-BRIDGE ACCESS POLICY: Now that enforcement cameras are up and running (as of this past Monday), is there a chance to expand low-bridge use to more people? SDOT’s Meghan Shepard led this presentation. She said the Community Task Force’s low-bridge subcommittee has met 11 times. Here’s who’s on it:
On day 3 of enforcement-camera use, Shepard said it was too soon to say how the change is affecting traffic, but they hope to have a report in a few weeks, and will have updates at each CTF meeting. She showed usage data from the low bridge as chronicled on August 2nd and December 10th:
They’ve been studying bridge capacity, including how traffic recovers from being stopped during maritime openings. They’re also looking at what’s ahead, including the first berth opening at Terminal 5, which means more longshore workers using the low bridge (the first ships are expected in June). There is more capacity, they know – the gap between the bars and the dotted line:
Shepard pointed out there’s a “midday pinch,” the hours when the bars and dotted line are closest together – so if you use the low bridge, please use it outside midday hours! – and they’ll be watching carefully. They hope monitoring will make it clearer how usage can be expanded without overwhelming the low bridge. Maybe health-care workers, for example. Subcommittee member Diane Sosne from SEIU Healthcare 1199 explained those are on-call personnel who would have to respond to weekend calls.
Shepard recapped who can use the low bridge now, outside the 9 pm-5 am “open to all” hours, and what they are allowed to use it for:
“Using the low bridge is when you’ve GOT to use the low bridge, time sensitive, to support your business,” Shepard summarized. They can update the access list monthly, so if you think you meet the criteria, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Lora Radford, the West Seattle Junction Association executive director who’s on the subcommittee, said the authorized businesspeople are being very careful to keep their usage low and only when very necessary.
What about people in need of life-saving medical treatments? asked King County Councilmember Joe McDermott. Along with health-care workers, that’s high on the list of who they’re looking at next, SDOT reps said. McDermott said it’s “very important” to consider individual needs, not just “commerce,” suggesting that someone going in for daily cancer treatments, for example, should have just as much priority, if not more, as a business owner making a supply run. It was noted in response that identifying those people in advance, or figuring out how to quantify/nullify a ticket, would be challenging. Maybe contact the health-care providers and work with them to offer West Seattle-residing patients the option of using the low bridge, he suggested.
HIGHLAND PARK WAY/WEST MARGINAL WAY INTERSECTION: SDOT’s Trevor Partap reviewed the rechannelization at this intersection, done last year.
The three “yellow flowers” in that map show where there’s equipment that ‘talks to each other’ regarding traffic flow. Here are the results:
They’re getting about 45 more vehicles an hour through the intersection as well as improving travel times, Partap said.
ALSO REGARDING WEST MARGINAL WAY SW: SDOT’s Sara Zora said the temporary signal by the Duwamish Tribe Longhouse will be installed this year, the permanent one next year. The idea of a northbound freight-only lane on WMW is dead, but they’re still looking at repurposing the outside southbound lane north of the Longhouse:
In addition to what’s on the list shown above, another public way to comment will be at the January 28th West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting, Zora said. CTF members Deb Barker from the Transportation Coalition and Dan Austin from the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce had been on a site walk and both expressed concerns about the safety of a bicycle lane alongside freight. The schedule for WMW is part of the Reconnect West Seattle schedule grid:
ALSO REGARDING RECONNECT WEST SEATTLE: Zora is point person for Reconnect West Seattle, the umbrella name for traffic-mitigation and mobility-improvement projects. She said all the 2020 projects have been completed. For 2021, they’re planning at least 33 projects:
Those 8 new radar speed signs are planned as the result of a “speed study” done through the area; Zora also said they studied the pavement on detour routes and have already filled 29 potholes, with repaving and concrete-panel replacement on the way. There is also a clickable project map for Reconnect West Seattle – see it here.
MOBILITY GOALS: Remember back when SDOT laid out how it hoped people would shift their modes of travel while the bridge is out? Here’s how that’s going:
For bus riders, some capacity will be added on Metro Routes 50, 60, and 128, and they’re hoping to use Transportation Benefit District money for more additions:
TRAFFIC STATS: At the start of the meeting, Partap went over stats from the pandemic, showing how traffic changed on the three bridges when circumstances changed.
Traffic “bumped up” in December. He expects a drop with the start of low-bridge camera enforcement. You can see this and other data on this dashboard. Reviewing transit and bicycle usage data, he pointed out that for example the week in September with heavy forest-fire smoke took the bike stats down.
NEW MEMBERS: Two spots on the Community Task Force have new representatives because the original ones have moved on to new jobs. For the King County Executives Office, Rachel Smith replaced by Shannon Braddock; from the Seattle Mayor’s Office, former Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan has been replaced by Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller (overseeing SDOT is part of his portfolio).
NEXT MEETING: Rather than always meeting at noon Wednesdays, they’re looking at alternating that slot with Thursday late-afternoon meetings, so 4 pm February 11th is the current plan for the next monthly WSBCTF meeting.