VIDEO: The questions people keep asking, what’s next on the road to repairs, low-bridge data and more @ West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force’s May meeting

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

On a day that began with a one-two punch that rendered the 415-days-and-counting West Seattle Bridge closure extra-painful, the Community Task Force‘s monthly online gathering brought some news, as well as discussion of the ultimate Frequently Asked Question – why isn’t it fixed yet? – and a few other common questions.

That’s where we begin this month’s coverage of the advisory group’s meeting.

MEMBERS’ COMMENTS/QUESTIONS: Before the scheduled presentations, CTF co-chair Paulina López from the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition opened the floor to members for open discussion, such as “what are you hearing in the community?” She began by mentioning concerns about speeding and other driver problems in South Park now that schools have reopened for part-time in-person learning. Member Deb Barker from the West Seattle Transportation Coalition brought up frustrations that she has heard, including low-bridge access restrictions and lack of visible work on the bridge. Bridge project director Heather Marx said even once work begins, there won’t be much to see because most of it will be inside the bridge. Barker also said she was shocked that no West Seattle/Duwamish Valley voices were heard in the the City Council’s recent discussion of how to spend $20 in car=tab taxes, not committing it to bridge maintenance. Barker said the general attitude from commenters who were there was “bridges really aren’t that important.” Later in the meeting, Newell Aldrich of City Councilmember Lisa Herbold‘s staff tried to explain the vote, saying Herbold originally had sponsored an amendment to state an intent to dedicate 75 percent of the money to bridge/structure maintenance; this week’s unanimous council vote removed that statement of intent, but does not specify what the money will and wont go for in future years.)

Member Anne Higuera of Ventana Construction (WSB sponsor) said she’s also hearing the same concerns Barker mentioned. Though CTF meetings amply cover the process of moving toward repairs, Higuera says one question that’s difficult to answer is “What exactly is wrong with the bridge – what went wrong?” and what’s keeping it out of operation now. She suggested that SDOT put out an explanation to clarify this for people, especially those “who have a vested interest in getting the bridge back … are still not understanding what’s happening.”

Member Dan Austin from the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce seconded what Barker said about the $20 vehicle license tax, as well as the lack of public understanding about how the process is proceeding. Austin suggested that SDOT create an explanatory video.

Member John Persak from Georgetown said that his community – now the main detour for West Seattleites getting to and from I-5 – hasn’t seen much traffic-mitigation activity beyond some initial speed-bump installation. He also noted “increased interest in bike connectivity” to and from the area.

HIGH BRIDGE UPDATE: SDOT’s Greg Izzo said they’re “slightly ahead” of schedule, with an independent cost review under way, and 60 percent design expected in early July, by which time a contractor will be hired. As we reported earlier this week, three finalists were chosen for interviews; those are complete, and the three firms will now submit price proposals. Those will be opened May 19th, and a final selection is expected May 24th. Izzo tried to answer the “why is it taking so long?” question by explaining that since some federal funding is involved, they have to be extra-careful with every step, every detail. (For example, they’re waiting for federal approval of the Community Workforce Agreement.) Here again is the overall timeline, with construction expected to start in the fourth quarter:

Are there any incentives for finishing early? Izzo was asked. “There could be ways to incentivize monetarily,” he said, “but fundamentally the (General Contractor/Construction Management type of) contract is a partnership” and they are expected to work with the city to overcome obstacles. Challenges ahead will include “negotiating with the contractor to get to that final price.” Also, if there’s a “protest” in the process = by a contractor who didn’t win the bid – that could hold things up, though he says they’ve been so methodical through this, that’s not expected. Some “early works packages” may bring work crews to the bridge before the official start of repair construction, he said. (No details were offered; we’re following up on that, as well as on whether there really aren’t going to be financial incentives for finishing early.)


There would have to be a way to manage the access for emergency vehicles, for one; the bridge is stabilized but “a lot of pencil stresses would be (a possibility) if live load were introduced on the bridge at this time … we don’t feel it’s worth the risk.” Also, even if they did, that access wouldn’t be for very long since they now have the possibility of the aforementioned “early works” projects even before the main repairs begin, so basically, they suggested, it wouldn’t be worth the trouble. As one more exhibit, he showed photos of how the bridge looks now:

Zimbabwe said, “We realize the frustration with people thinking there’s no work going on on the bridge” and said he is open to suggestions of ways to communicate that there “IS a lot of work going on to get the bridge back in service,” it’s just behind the scenes.

LOW-BRIDGE ACCESS UPDATES: SDOT’s new low-bridge program manager Maureen Sheehan led this briefing. They’ve now granted 60 applications for low-bridge access to get to life-saving medical treatment and, as noted at another recent briefing, 600 access applications from all categories have come in. For access by June 1st, the application needs to be in May 15th (for all categories but life-saving treatment – those get expedited review as they come in, SDOT says, but they also need to reapply every three months). Here are the questions Sheehan said they’re getting frequently:

SDOT’s Matt Beaulieu picked it up from there with data. He had charts showing that low-bridge use is down during the restricted hours. But violations are up – the low bridge had been averaging 500 unauthorized trips a day, and now it’s around 600 to 700. About half are warnings, and half are citations.

Traffic is nowhere near what the bridge could handle – look at the difference between the blue bars and the red threshold lines:

Taking the future anticipated T-5 truck traffic (the gray bars) into account, some dayparts might exceed capacity when the first T-5 dock opens to cargo next year. So access will have to change in January, said Sheehan, and they’re starting “outreach” for that now.

Higuera wondered about what happens to the money from the $75 low-bridge-ticket fines – calculating that with the numbers Beaulieu showed, that could bring in more than $50,000 a day. Some of the money goes to camera operation; half of what remains goes to a state accessible-transportation fund.

RECONNECT WEST SEATTLE: SDOT’s Sara Zora said traffic, transit, and bicycling volumes are trending slightly upward. She updated Home Zone traffic-mitigation projects – South Park and Georgetown speed-hump construction is done; the 60 speed humps headed for Highland Park and vicinity are halfway done and should be complete by the end of June.

On West Marginal Way’s west side, sidewalk installation is happening this weekend and next weekend; the interim signal and crosswalk will be as soon as late August, with permanent sidewalk and signal work next year.

Zora did not mention the status of the controversial protected-bike-lane proposal until a question from Persak, who said that project should get an environmental review. She said that a decision on the proposal is still on track to be made .before the end of June but the next step is a meeting with SDOT leadership and the Freight and Bicycle Advisory Boards . Task Force member Peter Steinbrueck, a Seattle port commissioner, said what’s really needed is grade-separated bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure because “mixing bikes and trucks” is not the way to go.

LOW BRIDGE PROBLEM: At the start of the meeting, co-chair Greg Nickels asked about the overnight closure. “A mechanical issue on the tail lock” is how Marx described it, saying it’s “part of” the repair project that will involve the low bridge as well as the high bridge. Pending those repairs, this is an “intermittent” problem, Marx said. Hours after the meeting, we got another update from SDOT, and added it to our original coverage.)

LOW BRIDGE UPDATE: Izzo also updated the projects that are separate from what will be included in the high-bridge contract.

The low-bridge controls project will go out to bid in the next week or so, later than expected but the overall schedule calls for it to be done by year’s end. The “lift cylinders” work is on track too.

NEW BRIDGE DESIGN, JUST IN CASE: In the final moments of the meeting, bridge project director Marx said SDOT has continued design work on the “rapid span replacement” concept that was being explored just before Mayor Jenny Durkan decreed last November that repairs would be the immediate pathway instead of replacement. SDOT has consistently said that in the ensuing half-year that it still needs to work on replacement planning just in case, but this was the first mention that work has proceeded on a specific option. Marx said they decided to take the “rapid replacement” concept to “30 percent design … out of an abundance of caution just in case the worst happens and the repair fails.” We are following up on this too.

NEXT NEETING: 4 pm Thursday, June 10th, with replacement planning among the topics.

28 Replies to "VIDEO: The questions people keep asking, what's next on the road to repairs, low-bridge data and more @ West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force's May meeting"

  • Ryan May 12, 2021 (9:57 pm)

    Can’t help but feel like this situation has been completely mismanaged from the beginning and continues to be. So little faith in the people running this. 

    • DC May 13, 2021 (8:33 am)

      The thing that stood out to me was Greg Izzo admitting that the reason permitting, design and contracting was taking so long was because they are having to meticulously jump through every bureaucratic hoop to ensure federal funding and that the rejected contract applicants don’t win a protest challenge (which isn’t guaranteed no matter how careful they are). If they considered this an actual EMERGENCY they would have cut that bureaucratic tape. If I-90 bridge had been closed, they would have made emergency stipulations that allowed them to speed the process. They aren’t even trying that here.

      • reed May 13, 2021 (12:17 pm)

        DC, perhaps you can explain to us how a city (not federal or even state)-declared civil emergency (which it is, per the mayor as of July 16th, 2020) gives SDOT the ability to ignore the the complex compliance requirements associated with federal funding? This would certainly answer the lingering “why is this taking so long” chest thumping we see on here every day. Please do your community a favor and put this issue to bed.   

      • Reality Chick May 14, 2021 (9:14 am)

        This may or may not have any impact on SDOT’s current focus regarding federal bridge funding–but recall that the streetcar (City Connector) had/has serious veracity issues with its request for federal funds…

  • Alki rider May 12, 2021 (9:58 pm)

    Over the past two months me and my friends have been effectively spamming their email address about motorcycle access to the low bridge. Sounds like their “questions people keep asking” are not all there.

    • Vespa rider May 13, 2021 (8:54 am)

      I’ve taken that same issue to Heather and her response is the same ridiculous answer they gave in The beginning that motorcycles take up the same amount of space as a car… LOLshe also says that it is too small of a group to have concerns about them and their needs

    • Peter May 13, 2021 (9:01 am)

      You’re a spammer. You say so yourself. They probably block spammers like you, as they should. 

      • Lisa May 13, 2021 (9:54 pm)

        Pro active community member was my take away… SDOT is not being fair with the situation and the community it impacts 

      • Alki rider May 14, 2021 (8:29 am)

        Proactive indeed. “Spamming” terminology used out of frustration, but you can think of it as exercising your decomcratic right to follow up with city officials regarding ideas you and others care about.

  • Commuter May 12, 2021 (10:27 pm)

    I bike across the low bridge almost every day and I see a lot of people crossing without plates, or with duct tape covering their plates. They take the flyover to Terminal 5 and put them back on (or pull the tape off), or use Chelan Cafe or even the boat ramp. I’ve also seen them turn on Delridge, but don’t know where they pull over that direction. This week I have seen at least one vehicle every time I cross, which means there are a lot of people getting away with it. 

    • Necessary May 13, 2021 (8:59 am)

      Since SDOT Won’t help people to utilize the bridge effectively it’s nice that some people are taking it into their own hands to figure out ways to help with traffic mitigation… just a shame that people are forced to break ridiculous laws to do so

      • K May 13, 2021 (1:16 pm)

        This is a great example of how cars drive selfish, anti-social behavior.  Christ.

  • Alki resident May 12, 2021 (10:47 pm)

    Thank you WSB for sharing information and the meeting, also to the task force members continuing to push SDOT. I agree they need better a communication plan! It’s unclear what’s really going on so a video is a great idea. From the community, all we see is installing ridiculous speed limits signs and speed bumps. There must be money for that? 25 mph is crazy…need cars moving. I didn’t hear about opening up the first avenue bridge to 7am-7am? That would help shift some traffic. It’s only getting busier traffic wise and also not clear what the mitigation plan is. 

  • Kyle May 12, 2021 (10:57 pm)

    “Barker also said she was shocked that no West Seattle/Duwamish Valley voices were heard in the the City Council’s recent discussion of how to spend $20 in car tab taxes, not committing it to bridge maintenance. Barker said the general attitude from commenters who were there was “bridges really aren’t that important.” Later in the meeting, Newell Aldrich of City Councilmember Lisa Herbold‘s staff tried to explain the vote, saying Herbold originally had sponsored an amendment to state an intent to dedicate 75 percent of the money to bridge/structure maintenance; this week’s unanimous council vote removed that statement of intent, but does not specify what the money will and wont go for in future years” — what a joke. Herbold completely flip flopped and didn’t speak up for her constituents. Of course the special interest groups they surveyed wanted to spend the money on special interests and not something basic like bridge maintenance.

    • Anne May 13, 2021 (7:29 am)

      Herbold-“flip-flopped” & you’re surprised????? That is SOP for Ms.Herbold. If folks weren’t vocal about spending the car tab fee on bridge maintenance-because they thought Ms.Herbold would be their voice-that was a mistake.

  • Smittytheclown May 13, 2021 (6:20 am)

    I see a lot more cars with “temporary” plates in their rear windows than normal in the westbound lower bridge turn lane.  Seems like an easy cheat.

  • Sam May 13, 2021 (7:52 am)

    I know I’m preaching to the choir but we are fortunate to have WSB covering this so well. Where else would we get this information!

  • Sam May 13, 2021 (7:57 am)

    I will add that while people have noted the increase from school starting, I think we are going to get hit really hard as people go back in to work. I feel for the neighborhoods that I have to drive through – I wish i didn’t have to, but I do. I guess I could take light rail instead lol 

  • bill May 13, 2021 (8:05 am)

    Cut windows in the high bridge so the nags can see the work going on. Put live-streaming cams over every SDOT workstation so they can also watch the thrilling engineering work.

  • VitoGhost May 13, 2021 (9:17 am)

    If she believed so strongly in earmarking 75% for bridges, why did she vote against it later?  This must be from the same playbook during her campaign where she said she was for adding police officers to the SW Precinct.  Lisa Herbold:  the Kevin McCarthy of political courage….

  • Alki Dad May 13, 2021 (10:15 am)

    I appreciate SDOTs careful planning and thoughtful approach to repairing the bridge. I think it is imperative to get it right the first time, additionally their continued focus on safety in our neighborhoods with reduced speed limits and other traffic calming measures is essential to riding out the temporary increase in traffic and managing the associated impatient and aggressive drivers. WSB I had heard in another thread that the start date for construction was necessary because of the need to monitor the bridge through a year of temperature cycles, was that information discussed? Do you have any official statement about the monitoring period?

  • TM7302 May 13, 2021 (10:46 am)

    What I hear is an hour and 14 minutes of bridge mismanagement. A lot of data on low bridge traffic and West Marginal Way noise.  And they just figured out they might have a problem about communicating what everyone wants to know.  Sheesh.  Does anyone remember that Durkan went with the repair plan 6 months ago?  

  • Steve May 13, 2021 (11:43 am)

    Has there been any mention of fixing the potholes and surface cracks on the Spokane Street Viaduct NOW when the road is so lightly traveled?  I have this vision of the city waiting until the bridge is finally finished…which of course would be ridiculous and not unexpected of them.  

  • Fairmont May 13, 2021 (1:01 pm)

    Not a single West Seattle resident should vote for Herbold when she runs again (and she will because it’s her livelihood). She’s is what is wrong with city council. No backbone. No fresh ideas. Just going with the flow and failing constituents time and time again. We deserve better representation.

  • Tim206 May 15, 2021 (2:22 pm)

    Can the idea of allowing bicycles over WSB be brought up? Light weight, way safer for cyclists and awesome views. At least having it as a source for biking and maybe even walking could allow an outlet for us. Biking to a Sounders match over WSB would be epic. 

  • stephen May 19, 2021 (10:35 am)

    can they please shut up about the lower bridge? 95% of seattle citizens are note eligible to use it. at what point is it an EMERGENCY to get the upper bridge back in commission, its been like 18 months. fix it already and lets restore our sanity.

    • WSB May 19, 2021 (10:37 am)

      14 months. Next step, contractor proposals opened today.

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