By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The rules for who gets to drive on the West Seattle low bridge, and when, are changing.
First, the key points; we’ll get into the details after the short version.
OPEN-TO-ALL HOURS: Three more hours are being added on Saturday and Sunday mornings, 5-8 am, which means the low bridge will be unrestricted 9 pm Friday to 8 am Saturday, 9 pm Saturday to 8 am Sunday, and 9 pm-5 am the other five nights/mornings.
That’s the only added access that doesn’t require SDOT approval for drivers. All the rest will be via pre-authorized license plates:
PATIENTS WHO NEED LIFE-SAVING MEDICAL TREATMENTS: Applications for this will open tomorrow.
ON-CALL HEALTH-CARE PROVIDERS: Applications for this previously announced change will open soon.
RETAIL AND RESTAURANT BUSINESSES: All West Seattle businesses in these sectors are welcome to apply for access to use the low bridge.
RIDESHARING: They’re going to expand the definition to align with what the state Department of Licensing allows via special ride-share plates, which, for example, could open low-bridge use to a family who uses its vehicle to transport multiple families’ children to schools on the other side of the river.
SDOT says all of the above will combine to potentially double the number of allowable non-emergency/transit/freight trips on the bridge daily. In all, they have been allowing access that could have totaled up to 450 trips a day – though they have only been seeing around 250 of those types of trips lately; these changes will open the door for up to 900 trips.
But SDOT emphasizes that these are temporary changes and could be rolled back at any time, including once Terminal 5 reopens for cargo after its first “modernized” berth is complete next year.
Now, the details:
“Life-saving medical treatments” will not be defined by a set list – it’s up to your health-care provider to verify that you need low-bridge access to get to and from your treatments. SDOT’s Meghan Shepard says the verification process will be similar to how providers verify that people are eligible for disabled-parking placards. SDOT will not ask for your personal health information, just for provider verification. Once granted, this authorization will last for 90 days, and then you’d have to apply to renew it.
On-call health-care providers will need employer verification; the application process will open by the end of this month.
Businesses that are authorized to use the low bridge now will keep that access through May 31st, but otherwise, everything starts fresh.
In the pilot program over the past several months, businesses mostly sought access through the West Seattle Junction Association or Chamber of Commerce, first with physical placards, then with license-plate numbers once the enforcement cameras were activated. SDOT had final say. Now they’re taking over complete administration of access, and there will be a “portal” – with translation – through which businesses will be able to apply. More than 600 businesses will now be eligible, SDOT says, whereas previously about 160 were participating. These are not commute trips, though – they are to be limited to “urgent trips to pick up equipment or supplies.”
Maritime/Harbor Island business access is not changing.
For the expanded ride-share access, you have to have a state-issued plate.
All of this information, and application links, will be made available via the SDOT webpage for the low bridge.
Meantime, we will update/extend this story with whatever additional information comes up during the presentation/discussion at today’s Community Task Force meeting.
ADDED THURSDAY NIGHT: No major discussion during the Community Task Force meeting; members who had advocated for adding life-saving-treatment patients had words of praise for the impending change.
A timeline note – while SDOT hopes to add people in that category as soon as possible, other user groups will be updated monthly, so you would want to get an application in by the 15th to be considered for addition on the 1st.
And one more slide from the deck used both for the media briefing and the task-force meeting – this is the current SDOT rationale for rationing low-bridge usage:
Several other items of interest from the meeting will be in our next report, to be published Friday.
FRIDAY UPDATE: Though they’re not linked on the SDOT website, the applications for life-saving-treatment patients to get low-bridge authorization are available now, and we’ve received the links.
English – here
Traditional Chinese here