5:30 PM: This Friday marks 16 months since the emergency closure of the West Seattle Bridge. Tonight, SDOT is presenting updates and answering questions at a community meeting. You can watch above, via YouTube, but if you want to ask questions, participate via Zoom – here’s the link. We’ll post notes every 10 minutes or so.
SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe welcomed attendees, reminding them that he too is a West Seattle resident. Since the bridge closure, “our priority has been first and foremost public safety,” he said, and reiterated the “mid-2022” reopening projection. He was to be followed by Deputy Mayor David Moseley, but technical challenges intervened; instead, Zimbabwe summarized Moseley’s prepared remarks, saying Mayor Jenny Durkan couldn’t be there because she’s “in the other Washington.” City Councilmember Lisa Herbold followed. She said she’s been hearing about traffic and safety issues since the bridge closed, and noted that SDOT had “built more than 200 projects so far” to address them. “We rely on the community to identify these emerging issues.” She also noted that the council has “committed to funding” both the bridge repair and the traffic/safety projects. “Now that businesses are opening up again, we hope these projects are going to makee it easier for people to spend time in our neighborhoods.”
5:53 PM: They’re running polls along the way – first, what zip code participants are in; 98116 led, followed by 98136, followed by 98106. Then: How did you hear about the meeting? Email newsletters came in #1, WSB #2. After that, Deputy Mayor Moseley was brought on. He spoke of a call today involving West Seattle Bridge issues and Washington state members of Congress. He announced $12 million in new federal dollars, routed through the state, bringing total federal funding for the project to almost $38 million.
Bridge program director Heather Marx followed, noting she too is a West Seattle resident. She recapped what’s happened along the way, saying the bridge cracking “was likely caused by insufficient post-tensioning [steel strengthening]” in the bridge. That wasn’t an error, but just the bridge being “built to the standards of the time,” she said.
When will the bridge reopen? She said that at intermediate design, it’s too soon to say anything more specific than “mid-2022.” As has been said multiple times lately, construction of the repair work will start late this year.
She also showed new schematic designs that were debuted at last week’s Community Task Force meeting (see them in our coverage).
She also tried to explain why the design work is “a careful, highly mathematic process” and “how important it is that we get this design exactly right.”
6 PM: Marx handed the baton to Maureen Sheehan, the low-bridge program director. She recapped why low-bridge access is restricted, and which groups are eligible for authorization to use it during the restricted hours. (See all that info here.) She also noted that they are surveying current users as part of determining how access might change once Terminal 5 launches cargo-ship service early next year.
Next poll – how do people want to hear bridge updates in the future? Of the options presented, email newsletters/blog posts led.
6:10 PM: Sara Zora, who manages the Reconnect West Seattle program, was next up. The 200 projects of which she spoke include the speed humps, radar speed signs, and other installations you’ve seen in multiple neighborhoods, particularly Highland Park, many under the Home Zone umbrella. She also touched on West Marginal Way (including, most recently, the future-protected-bike-lane decision).
Then, a pitch for mode-shifting, which SDOT has talked about since the start, to try to keep traffic semi-manageable even as people return to commuting. What you do affects everybody else, she reiterated.
6:20 PM: Wes Ducey, yet another West Seattle-residing SDOT manager, talked about planning for replacing the bridge … in 2060. “Where the replacement bridge” should be built – or maybe a tunnel – is the focus of the study they’re doing. Its “draft findings” will be available this fall. Then the last poll – what do you want to hear about going forward? (Consultant/facilitator Angie Thomson said respondents could make multiple choices.) “Repair progress,” unsurprisingly, led. Then, a quick reminder of ways to stay updated.
Q&A followed. As noted in comments, the written questions submitted via Zoom were NOT visible to all (we’ll be asking for the list). Questions were addressed to specific participants, so that’s who replied.
#1 – What can be done to speed up the repair? Zimbabwe replied. “I can assure you there is urgency in our work to achieve the repairs.” He said “very delicate design” and material procurement are things that take time. He insisted “everybody at SDOT is working urgently … day in and day out.”
#2 – Why hasn’t the design been done over the time the bridge has been closed? Marx: “Design has actually been under way for a significant portion of the closure” – first the stabilization, then full repair design started last November.
#3 – Can we promote more local services in West Seattle to “stay local”? Herbold: “I’m happy to do whatever I can.” She said she would be happy to use her weekly newsletter to promote things, and “we all can do more.”
#4 – Have there been any thoughts on increasing frequency of/extending hours of water taxis, and adding one from Fauntleroy? Zora noted that King County runs the WT, and ridership has been increasing. They did look at adding foot ferries, but “the assessment we had seemed like it would not necessarily improve the mobility option in the timeframe we needed it.”
#5 – Once bridge is reopened, will work continue to plan for a replacement? Ducey said that the study focusing on siting as well as figuring out how traffic would flow during a replacement will be helpful.
#6 – Why not open the low bridge at more times? Sheehan noted that the weekend mornings added 3 hours recently, “and we continue to evaluate.” But if they opened it further, it would be too crowded for emergency passage.
First verbal question at 6:34 pm – #7 – Why can’t Uber/Lyft use the low bridge more hours? Sheehan replied that while they’re evaluating, “it’s a finite resource” and the rideshare group is “too large” to grant access and still preserve emergency vehicles’ mobility. Marx added later that traffic apps have been a bit problematic lately and SDOT is working with them.
#8 was a written question. There’s construction everywhere – how is it being coordinated? Marx said for one, the Delridge project will be done in a couple months. Otherwise, “we ARE coordinating construction.” She gave examples such as the early-morning work hours for the West Marginal/Highland Park Way weekend work. “We do everything we can to be sure we can complete work in off-hours.”
#9 – Is Zimbabwe working from home or commuting? He said “a mix of both” (he was at his home near The Junction while participating in the meeting).
#10 – Will a mayoral change mean changes in the bridge program? Herbold said the Council approves funding and no dramatic change would be possible without councilmembers’ support. She doesn’t see “any big changes” likely no matter who moves into the mayor’s office next year.
#11 – What are law enforcers doing to prevent line cutting, especially at the 99/509 onramp by the transfer station? SDOT’s Trevor Partap said enforcement is the best way to address that and there’s been some – they’ll “send a reminder.”
#12 – Are motorcycles allowed to use the low bridge and if not, why? Sheehan said no, because urgent trips and emergencies are prioritized. (We published a longer reply to this months ago.)
#13 was a verbal question at 6:45 pm – What could have prevented the bridge getting to the point it needed to close, and what’s being done to keep other bridges from getting to that point? He also voiced concerns about side-street safety. For the first part, Zimbabwe said “the bridge was built to the standards of the time” as Marx had said earlier and all the records have not revealed “a fatal flaw.” The stabilization work, and repair work, require opening up the bridge deck and so whenever the problem was caught, a closure would have resulted. As for other structures, they’ve added “real-time monitors” to look for the kind of problems that might require closures. Regarding side-street safety, Zora said the Home Zone program has been focused on that. firstname.lastname@example.org if you have specific areas you want to see evaluated.
#14 – Has SDOT considered opening the bridge for limited traffic? Marx said no, because there are holes in the road surface so the interior can be accessed. Also, the engineer of record says “that is not a safe option.”
#15 – What is the plan for light rail on the new bridge? Ducey said that the Sound Transit need for a new cross-Duwamish bridge does not align with replacement planning for the bridge but their work keeps “informing each other.”
#15 – How can all these construction projects improve traffic – should we be doing so many while the bridge is closed? Zimbabwe said a lot of “large scale and small scale changes” have been made and they did require construction – remember the emergency signal at Highland Park Way/Holden? He said the safety improvements are vital.
#16 – Could new park-ride lots be set up near the low bridge? Zora pointed out the existing one under the high bridge.
#17 – Will you be offering low-bridge passes for students who have to cross the Duwamish? Sheehan said school buses can use it and they urge people to get ride-share permits.
#18 – Toll? Herbold said that would require a public vote. And it wouldn’t be fair to restrict access to those who could pay.
#19 was a verbal question at 6:55 – he said the closure was the city’s fault for adding a fourth lane on the bridge and not limiting weight of vehicles. Zimbabwe addressed it, saying “We don’t plan any change to the operation of the high bridge when it opens. …. There’s no indication that the change in travel lanes led to the structural problems.”
#20 – Does SDOT intend to promote a kindness initiative for drivers using the detour route? Marx said that was a great idea. “We are all in this together. All the people on the detour routes are your friends, your family, your neighbors … Make sure you extend to people the grace you hope they would extend to you.”
#21 – Any way the bike paths can be cleaned? Bridge to South Park to Tukwila, also Fauntleroy Way. Zora said yes.
#22 – Will the same number of lanes be used when the bridge opens? Will the .4 mile bus lane be removed when the bridge reopens? Marx reiterated, “We expect to return the bridge to its original configuration,” maybe with wider shoulders on the westbound side. “All those buses were using it before the bus lane.” so it’s not considered to have been a problem.
#23 – a verbal question at 7:02 pm: Is 9 pm the wisest time to start low-bridge access? There’s a massive backup at 8:58 pm every night. Also – re: construction, why did they all have to be started at the same time? Sheehan replied to the low-bridge questionm saying it’s likely to happen whatever time the low bridge opens, Zimbabwe answered regarding the construction that they’re trying to mitigate some of the bridge impacts as quickly as they can, so that’s why so much construction.
#24 – When will we start seeing workers on the bridge? Marx said some were up there on Monday – some asbestos testing – and if you watch the bridge, you’ll see more things like that. But much of the repair work will be inside the bridge. (Work platforms will go up in November, as previously announced.)
#25 – Thistle Street/35th has become problematic with detour traffic. Zora said they can get some folks out to analyze the signal timing and see if other improvements can be made.
#26 – Are they working with the Port re: T-5? Marx said yes, they’re working closely, and T-5’s first berth is expected to open in January. “Freight is an incredibly important part of our system” and that’s why they need to ensure things flow smoothly.
#27 – How are you managing traffic at Highland Park/West Marginal, and can you install signage at the Chelan intersection? Partap said regarding the first, they are “constantly monitoring intersection operation and adjusting signal timing as needed” plus have improvements under way. At Chelan/WMW, “we can work with SPD to be (look at enforcement)” regarding cutting but they also can look at engineering possibilities.
#28 – Did the heat wave cause any new cracks? How did the bridge perform? (We reported on that.) Marx said the stabilization work prevented anything from going awry and they’re “really confident” in what they’ve done.
That was the last question and the meeting wrapped at quarter past 7 (with a video recap of the situation to date). If your question didn’t get answered, an FAQ will be posted. Marx also said questions are always welcome at email@example.com.
7:32 PM: The archived video is playable now in the window above.