Updates, Q&A about three bridges @ West Seattle Transportation Coalition

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Bridge updates spanned much of this month’s West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting – the West Seattle high bridge and low bridge, and the 1st Avenue South Bridge. Last night’s online attendees also heard about an aerial alternative.

First, the bridge briefing:

WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE & W. MARGINAL WAY: SDOT‘s Heather Marx first tackled West Marginal Way – where a stretch of two-way protected bicycle lane is proposed – noting that the feedback from last week’s open-house meeting was “all over the map.” (Here’s our coverage.)

A decision is due in April. You can comment via email at westseattlebridge@seattle.gov or, if you have a business on West Marginal, take this survey.

Next, regarding low-bridge access: Marx recapped current policy:

She also mentioned the on-call medical workers exemption – part of the expanded access they will temporarily offer (as we first reported three weeks ago) :

Q&A followed. First: “Can the low bridge hours [for open access, currently 9 pm-5 am] be expanded?” They’re considering expanding it to 6 am, Marx said.

“When will the high bridge be repaired?’ An updated schedule is expected in the next few weeks; for now, they’re still expecting the repairs will be completed by “midyear 2022,” but Marx said traffic would be phased in “in a way that won’t put anybody at risk.”

Can it be fixed faster? “We’re doing everything we can to expedite the repair.”

Why is it taking so long? The repairs have to be designed, and in a way that will last.

Do Marx and other city officials have exemptions allowing them to use the low bridge? “Of course not.”

“Can the high bridge carry ambulances?” Marx: “No, there are holes in the deck.”

“Is the low bridge showing more wear and tear from all this [extra] use?” No.

How did the stabilized bridge respond to the recent cold temperatures and snow?

(February 14 image from SDOT camera over the high bridge)

“Great!” enthused Marx. It responded exactly how the modeling showed it should, and that’s “good news.” She added, “Snow is very heavy.”

In response to the next question/comment, Marx insisted the bridge trouble that forced the closure wasn’t because of a lack of maintenance, but due to a flaw in the original design and materials, she stressed.

Another question: “The bridge failed early in its life – how are you ensuring similar mistakes aren’t being made?” Marx explained that a bridge like this, if designed today, would have additional strengthening from the start. SDOT’s consultants at WSP, who are designing the permanent repairs, believe there’s now an 84 percent chance the bridge will last for its full 45-year (as originally projected) remaining life.

Will low bridge restrictions continue when the high bridge reopens? Marx: No.

1ST AVENUE SOUTH BRIDGE: This is a state bridge, not a city bridge, so its upcoming southbound-side repair work was discussed by WSDOT‘s Tom Pearce. “A little headache now, to avoid big headaches later,” he said, while stressing “the bridge IS safe.” He also emphasized that people should plan ahead to avoid big backups – especially if you can take other routes like the South Park Bridge, or the East Marginal bridge. He explained the bearing-pad work (which you can read about here) that’ll be done during the closure. Anything else in the area coming up? asked WSTC board member Deb Barker. Southbound I-5 between I-90 and the West Seattle Bridge exit will have lane closures over 16 weekends in the future, he said.

P.S. SDOT told WSB today that it is preparing for the state-bridge work’s traffic impacts with plans including these:

*We are deploying additional Seattle Response Team (SRT) crews, especially in the areas around the low bridge to support the afternoon peak when we tend to see the most congestion.

*In addition to WSDOT posting messages on the trailer mounted electronic signs on both sides of the bridge, we are posting messages about the closure and lane reductions on our overhead electronic signs on routes approaching both bridges. This notification helps drivers make decisions earlier when they still have good options to choose alternate routes or travel at another time.

*During the closures and lane reductions, we will monitor travel patterns 24/7 and make changes to signal timing as needed.

*We have limited or restricted other construction activities along the detour route for the duration of this WSDOT project.

They’re also stepping up pothole repair on detour routes.

WEST SEATTLE SKY LINK: We featured the gondola concept here last month. Martin Pagel, one of the people with whom we spoke for that story, gave the presentation last night at WSTC. To recap – they propose a gondola system as an cheaper-and-faster-to-build alternative to light rail between downtown and West Seattle.

Q&A: What happens if there’s a power outage? The motor usually has backup power, Pagel said.

What about high wind? “Depending on the technology, gondola systems can handle up to 70 mph.” And winds over 65 mph have only happened on six days in the past 70 years, added WSTC board member and gondola advocate Marty Westerman.

Where did they get the cost estimates? Research ln other systems that have been operating for the past 30+ years.

How would it get over Pigeon Point? Could be over existing houses, but there’s “no need to tear any houses down” unlike light rail, replied Pagel. Added supporter Dennis Noland, “Gondolas are very quiet, so we’re eliminating the noise impact.” He also noted that light rail currently is looking at 150-foot-high guideways along SW Genesee, “higher than the high-level West Seattle Bridge.” Construction would take a lot less time, too, he said. Those passing over in gondolas are likely to look out rather than down, said SkyLink’s Joyce Hengesbach.

How have they performed in quake-prone cities? They are used in many such areas – from South America to Japan – Pagel said.

What’s next? They want Sound Transit to approve a study – “we’ve got three consulting firms that are ready to jump in,” said Westerman.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Take Metro‘s survey. Don’t just think about reviving old routes – consider new ones, suggested WSTC chair Michael Taylor-Judd.

The West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets on fourth Thursdays most months, 6:30 pm online. Watch westseattletc.org for updates.

17 Replies to "Updates, Q&A about three bridges @ West Seattle Transportation Coalition"

  • Go-Go Gondola February 27, 2021 (1:07 am)

    As someone who typically rolls their eyes at the down right goofy ideas that locals suggest (replacing a fixable bridge, digging a billion dollar tunnel, adding bike lanes not needed) I must say…the gondola idea is pretty slick. Lets see if Seattle voters and leaders can avoid the long tedious go nowhere stall of discussion…like the one that cost us almost a year of bridge time…and just get to work. Go-Go Gondola! Yes!

    • Truth February 27, 2021 (9:14 am)

      The Gondola folks are presenting the rosiest of outlooks. The biggest hurdle is there is zero funding available for it. ST legally cannot just switch the money from a voter approved ballot measure to build light rail and decided to build a gondola instead.  I talked to a ST board member. They believe it would require a new proposal and vote of the entire 3 country ST voter base.  In their words the new vote is “not likely to ever even be considered.”

  • Scott Goldberg February 27, 2021 (2:27 am)

    Go do GOnDOla!  ⏱ 

  • tmstar February 27, 2021 (6:58 am)

    Parking?  Gondolas are great.  But you can’t “Park & Ride” if you can’t “Park”.   Bus to the gondola?  One transfer maybe, two transfers maybe not, three transfers and fuggedaboutit.  Still have to be able to get kids to day care and schools.  

    • Martin February 27, 2021 (9:46 am)

      Yes, transfers can be challenging mostly because you never quite know how long you need to wait for the connection. Gondolas make transfers easier as there is no such wait and stations are usually right above the bus or Link station.

  • Go-Go Gondola February 27, 2021 (9:33 am)

    Park and ride?? This would be instead of a choo-choo  train. Does the train come with parking a gondola does not? 

  • Marfaun February 27, 2021 (10:54 am)

    TRUTH:  gondola funding is available through ST3 — per ST’s own 2014 study designating gondola as high capacity transit for linking local /off-spine areas, and RCW 81.104.015.  A new vote is not required.  A majority of ST board members willing to save $2 billion in WS, not displace up to 200 Delridge & Avalon residents,  and deliver the grade separated pathway ST promised — by 2025 rather than 2031-2035 — is what’s needed to approve a study, and move the process forward toward construction of an aerial gondola.

    • Will S. February 27, 2021 (1:07 pm)

      This view strikes me as wildly incorrect. Sound Transit may have studied light rail in 2014, but the proposition approved by the voters in 2016 clearly contemplated light rail to West Seattle. The only reasonable inference is that Sound Transit considered and rejected gondolas as a candidate for ST3 funding, before the voters approved Sound Transit’s plan. This all happened 5 years ago. When, if ever, will you get over it?

  • seniorinseattle February 27, 2021 (11:08 am)

    The parking issue exists for all modes of public transit, especially as neighborhoods become more densely developed.   The nearest bus I can take in non commute hours is almost a hilly mile away requiring that I drive and find street parking (always a challenge.)   Seattle needs to develop a comprehensive plan that facilitates easy access to public transit.  I believe either Sound Transit or Metro is working on what they call a “last mile”  connection, including piloting “on demand” service.  I wonder if shuttle buses like the one that serves the Water Taxi could run more frequently on more routes to get people to bus stops (and eventually light rail or gondola) quickly and conveniently.  

  • Jason February 27, 2021 (12:04 pm)

    While the gondola concept sounds cool, and useful in some cases, I would be SO disappointed to get that instead of light rail (which is what we voted for). Long-term, the light rail enables West Seattle to be its own hub without having to go downtown first. How would a gondola help people planning on hopping on the light rail to go from west Seattle to Bellevue/Redmond for work? Or the family that wants to take the light rail to SeaTac (or beyond, eventually).The gondola would be an incredible addition, but a terrible replacement, for the light rail.

    • Go-Go Gondola February 28, 2021 (9:14 am)

       Nah. Gondola is faster, cheaper and leas impactful to environment. Light rail is dead and we should not waste time dithering. Gondola Now! 

  • Your Money February 27, 2021 (1:40 pm)

    FYI … the $1.9 trillion dollar relief package passed by the House includes $100M for an underground transit project in San Jose (part of the BART extension).  $100M would go a long way towards fixing our bridge.  For those inclined, maybe a quick email to our congressmen/congresswomen reminding them that we’ve been stranded for over one year & if the feds are “giving away” money, we could use some too.

    • Go-Go Gondola February 28, 2021 (10:24 am)

      Money is not really what is slowing down our lack of travel equity in WS. The issue is SDOT’s slow performance and lack of talent. They are unable to act nimbly and with purpose. Despite Durkan correctly labeling this a civic crisis SDOT does not have the skill set or work ethic or creativity to find ways to get humans over a small waterway. It is too bad that SDOT is failing in this spotlight moment of crisis. I think the failure should lead to a serious consideration of breaking up the agency and replacing it with some new agency able to handle infrastructure populated with people able to maintain and build roads and bridges. Maybe a separate agency that can study bike lanes and walking paths? Clearly SDOT as it is today is simply not capable of doing the needed to tasks to justify it’s current structure. Hopefully the next mayor will consider bifurcating bikes and walking from traditional modes of transportation. Electric cars are coming and SDOT is already failing to prepare for the needs of EV drivers. A small boutique agency created to meet, drink coffee and discuss bike lanes is fine but they cannot be coupled with the serious projects required. 

  • seniorinseattle February 27, 2021 (3:23 pm)

    After studying both light rail and gondola plans, I think the gondola is as good or better than light rail for traveling to SeaTac and Bellevue/Redmond.  Light rail and gondola are both “two seat” rides to SeaTac (you transfer at  SODO to go south.)  Getting to Bellevue/Redmond on light rail requires a “three seat” ride  — WS to STADIUM to ID to catch the Eastlink LR because the WS light rail won’t go to the ID until at least 2036.) With gondola it’s a “two seat” ride (WS to ID to Eastlink.)  Since the gondola could be operational at least five or six years sooner and take me to these destinations more easily in probably better time than LR makes it a better deal for those taxes I’m paying.  Plus it sounds a lot more enjoyable!  

  • Marfaun February 27, 2021 (6:39 pm)
    • JASON:  Likelihood of  light rail enabling WS to be its own hub is slim, as  cost of light rail to the Junction is already 73% over ST’s estimate, and  extending rail above ground from there would require razing miles of buildings southward (and displacing hundred of residents and businesses), for $300M /mile, or tunneling under WS for those miles at $400M-$500M /mile.  What we voted for is unaffordable:  Sound Transit is nearly $12 billion in the hole now, with little relief in sight.  The gondola would save Sound Transit $2 billion in WS that it could apply to building out the Everett-Tacoma-Redmond spines.  And the gondola could be extended more easily than light rail to connect Admiral & the Water Taxi north, and White Center south.   Getting to the airport would mean a 15 min. ride from WS to the I.D. light rail hub, then 18 minutes on light rail to SeaTac. I agree with you that the gondola would be an incredible addition — for commuters, tourists & WS businesses.  It would also be an incredible replacement for light rail.
    • Go-Go Gondola February 28, 2021 (9:17 am)

      There is an opportunity cost to endless meetings and dithering. Gondola us faster, cheaper and less impactful. I say we get it done as soon as possible. Seattle is falling behind with all the dithering. Time to build and get going. Now. Lets Go! 

  • Al King February 27, 2021 (6:55 pm)

    Speaking of access to rail/gondola. When the original monorail was proposed my brother was in management at Metro. The monorail people were secretly negotiating with Metro to END all  downtown bus service. There would only be a shuttle to the rail station. Monorail didn’t want the competition.

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