By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
43 years ago today, the West Seattle Bridge’s predecessor was abruptly taken out of service by an off-course freighter.
Will one more of those anniversaries pass before the current bridge finally reopens?
Even without an official schedule update, the repair timeline was a major topic at Thursday’s monthly meeting of the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force. The video is above; our report is below.
WHAT’S UP WITH REPAIRS: SDOT’s Greg Izzo says “everything’s on schedule and on track” now that Kraemer North America has been chosen as the contractor – though, it was mentioned later, the contract has yet to be finalized.
“Very experienced, qualified, collaborative” is how he described the firm, noting they’ve done some work in other states “crossing large rivers.” Then on to who will do the work – as long discussed, they’re planning to embark on a workforce-development program. Izzo said SDOT has worked this way on locally funded projects but it hasn’t previously been used for federally funded projects; a federal pilot program will enable that. Then he got back to the schedule:
Izzo said they’re going to do what they can to try to speed things up – but whether they can or not won’t be known until design is further along. Currently the high-bridge-repair work remains slated to start in November, and it is expected to be complete by mid-June 2022. Once work is done, load testing among other things will be required before traffic can be returned to the bridge. Diane Sosne of SEIU Healthcare 1199 wondered how long all that will take. “We don’t have that time frame yet … we don’t even have the contractor under contract yet,” replied Izzo. “We do not have a date yet – we can’t get that granular.” Sosne wondered, then, what would be the LATEST date the bridge could be open? Izzo repeated that it’s impossible to know until design is further along and the contractor has had some input (the design is being done by consultant WSP). Marx reiterated, “We don’t have enough information to give a specific date.”
Anne Higuera of Ventana Construction (WSB sponsor) wondered if there’s any concern about “supply-chain issues,” which are currently plaguing her industry, residential construction. Izzo said that “risk” – availability and prices – is being tracked and they’re doing what they can to order materials early. Dan Austin from the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce asked if any of the unsuccessful contenders for the project had filed challenges; SDOT said no.
SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe promised that “next month” would bring a detailed update. Bridge project director Heather Marx added that in the months ahead, ‘there’s going to be a lot going on … and you’re going to start to feel the momentum” toward repairs.
LOW-BRIDGE UPDATES: Program manager Maureen Sheehan recapped that 900 applications for access had been received (as we reported previously) – here’s what’s been granted:
Applications are coming in, and SDOT is doing more outreach to be sure all restaurants and retailers are aware of the opportunity. June 15th is the deadline for access starting July 1st – find the application link here. But she warned, as SDOT’s been doing for months, that some of the access might have to be revoked when Terminal 5 opens for cargo early next year. Here’s the criteria they’ll be using:
Work will start shortly on drafting a new low-bridge access policy. Then SDOT’s Matt Beaulieu went over current low-bridge traffic trends. You can see all those slides in the full deck from the meeting. City Councilmember Lisa Herbold asked if SDOT was considering expanding the early morning access-to-all hours. Short answer: No. Beaulieu said they’d analyzed weekdays and weekends and “you see a bump or a spike” at the end of current restriction periods, so they’d be worried about an overload on the low bridge if access was left open later. “It would very quickly overwhelm the capacity of the low bridge,” added Zimbabwe.
RECONNECT WEST SEATTLE: SDOT’s Sara Zora said the temporary asphalt sidewalk north of the Duwamish Tribe Longhouse is done; it’ll be upgraded to concrete when the new signal is put in. Regarding the West Marginal Way protected-bike-lane proposal, no decision yet, but “we’re still on track for a quarter 2 decision” (which would mean, by the end of this month – we’ll follow up on that next week).
She turned to traffic trends – it’s increasing, and they’re worried that the statewide “reopening” at the end of this month will jam things up even further, so they’re encouraging employees and employers to think about different ways of getting to and from work, different times.
They’ll be working with a consultant to get this message out. They’re encouraging vanpools – 8 have started up, with 35 participants, so far – and employer shuttles. (Both of those categories would automatically have permission to use the low bridge.)
Kevin Futhey from Commute Seattle presented results of an employer survey. They got more than 600 responses from more than 400 businesses.
Here’s the most interesting part of the results – when, and if, employers expect their employees to return to on-site work:
Almost two-thirds of the respondents expect more employees to use single-occupancy vehicles and fewer to use transit because of safety concerns. Some companies were making specific accommodations for West Seattle workers:
Later in comments, accessibility advocate Marci Carpenter suggested using “ambassadors” with lived experience in certain types of transportation to better connect with those considering changes. Zora said that might fit into a plan for their forthcoming consultant to engage in “mini-campaigns.”
HIGH-BRIDGE REPLACEMENT PLANNING: Wes Ducey is managing this project for SDOT. Since the bridge “gave us a little scare,” said Marx, this is happening not just with an eye to the distant future – the bridge’s expected end-of-life is 2060 – but also as a “contingency plan.”
Ducey is a West Seattle resident and said this is also taking into account new lessons learned about traffic in the Duwamish Valley area. He said the plan is to evaluate locations for a future replacement bridge – or tunnel – and how it would tie in to all the connections to the current bridge. And yes, they are talking with Sound Transit (since West Seattle light rail is supposed to include a cross-Duwamish bridge). CTF member Jen Temple from West Seattle Bridge NOW brought up concerns about ST possibly delaying light rail in its “realignment” plan – since previous discussions had noted that light rail would mean redundancy. Zimbabwe noted that even with realignment bringing possible delays, West Seattle light rail is still likely to be in place before a new WS bridge has to be built. Higuera noted that there was discussion last year of how hard it would be to fund a new bridge while the old one was still standing; Ducey said that different circumstances will likely apply when it gets to be time for the replacement.
Finally, a discussion that preceded the presentations:
TASK FORCE CONCERNS: Higuera renewed her request for timely, regular updates online, noting that the main West Seattle Bridge High-Rise Safety Program page appeared to have nothing new since May. (Checking it tonight, we see the top of the page timestamped March.) She also has renewed her request for an explanation of “what went wrong” with the bridge in the first place. Marx suggested signing up for email updates to get notification when something new is posted; she also said “this is a time in the project when things aren’t coming as fast and furious” as they had been. As for the “what went wrong” issue, she said that the forthcoming 60 percent and 90 percent repair-design updates will have better answers on that. … Colleen Desmond from Highland Park noted all the SDOT “Home Zone” work that’s happening in the area … Temple said she’s handing off to Liz Powell as West Seattle Bridge NOW’s representative on the CTF … Councilmember Herbold wondered how the third ferry joining the Triangle Route will affect traffic; Zora mentioned some of the traffic-calming features in the area near the dock. They’re collecting data on some of the “non-arterial routes” to and from the dock.
NEXT MEETING: Noon Wednesday, July 14th.