By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Answers to recurring questions were among the highlights of this month’s West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force meeting, held online Thursday afternoon
The meeting was led by CTF co-chair Greg Nickels. Here’s the video, followed by our report on what happened:
MEMBERS’ OBSERVATIONS/QUESTIONS: The meeting usually begins with these, ever since one meeting that was stuffed full of presentations, with little time for CTF members to discuss anything. Liz Powell of West Seattle Bridge NOW brought up Seattle City Council Position 8 finalist Ken Wilson, a civil engineer, having been quoted by a Seattle Times columnist as contending that the bridge could/should be partly reopened immediately.
Powell suggested it would be helpful for an SDOT engineer or contractor rep to address this directly. SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe noted that the issue was scheduled to be discussed later on the agenda. So before getting to other CTF member questions/comments, let’s jump ahead to that – they even had a slide ready in the meeting deck:
Bridge project director Heather Marx said putting any traffic on the bridge now would “cause more cracking and further harm the condition of the bridge. … Additional work is needed to further strengthen the bridge” so traffic can be restored. “There are other things too,” Marx said – such as holes in the bridge deck from work/monitoring, past and present. “Mostly, it’s important to understand that it is not safe” and the bridge will not be reopened until it is.
Back to CTF member comments/questions at the start of the meeting: Deb Barker from the West Seattle Transportation Coalition brought up a question surfaced by WSB commenters recently – Is the Water Taxi going to go back to its weekday-only, commute-periods-only schedule in October as usual, though the bridge won’t be open yet, and commute traffic is picking up?
Short answer, yes, that’s the plan. Marx said Metro “is not funded to run the Water Taxi at its current service levels” beyond October. “And even if we found more money, there are additional issues.” King County’s Chris Arkills said those issues would include staffing, though even just getting the funding approved would be a tough sell with the County Council. Barker pressed the subject of whether there isn’t additional money somewhere; Shannon Braddock from County Executive Dow Constantine‘s staff said no. Co-chair Nickels asked how much money extending the schedule would cost; Arkills didn’t have that number handy. “It’s expensive to operate a full schedule.” Retorted Barker, “Yes, but we have a bridge that’s closed.” (Later, Marx pointed out that the Water Taxi hasn’t been running full – if it’s needed, show it by filling it up, she suggested. The usual WT vessel has a capacity of more than 270; one Saturday sailing topped out at 180+, and that, they said, has been the recent peak.) We also have requested the cost info and were told today that won’t be available any sooner than Monday; we’ll report it when we get it.
Continuing with CTF member comments, Dan Austin from the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce brought up a truck-driver shortage that food-supply companies are experiencing, explaining that it’s affecting restaurant supplies, so low-bridge access is keeping small restaurants open. Kent is the only place they can get supplies right now. “It’s incredibly brutal,” Austin said. … Peter Goldman, a CTF member representing environmental/bicycling advocacy, offered positive feedback on bicycling increasing during the closure and SDOT’s support work. … Barker then had one more comment, summarizing her conversations with neighbors, who still want to know why they’re not seeing any work going on. “Once (repair work) starts, how are you going to show that it’s actually occurring?” – something “incredibly visual” is needed. Marx said they’re continuing to offer community briefings, and said that they’re actually working on the banner idea suggested in the last CTF meeting (WSB coverage here) by City Councilmember Lisa Herbold.
Next, a briefing on a project of note in one of the areas that’s taken on a sizable share of West Seattle Bridge closure detour traffic
SOUTH PARK DRAINAGE PROJECT: Some gravel streets are being rebuilt to be fully paved as part of this project addressing a longstanding flooding problem in South Park. These three slides had the project toplines:
Seattle Public Utilities is the lead agency on this project and is working with SDOT on this; the project website is here. Barker wondered how they were going to get the word out beyond those who have heard because they live/work in the area; Marx said the impact isn’t likely to go beyond those who routinely use the area, as these aren’t streets that people are using for detouring/short-cutting.
WHAT’S HAPPENING – AND HAPPENED – WITH THE BRIDGE: As we reported earlier this week, repair contractor Kraemer North America is working on updated estimates – “scope, schedule, budget” – and they have some “early works packages” in progress. Then in September, Marx said, they’ll have 90 percent design to give to Kraemer for a new estimate; that will be used for negotiating the “maximum allowable construction cost” before construction starts in November. “Work is happening on the bridge right now,” Marx said – some equipment replacement as well as the asbestos survey noted in our recent report. “It’s all happening inside the bridge.” Getting going with the early work packages awaits only a final agreement on federal funding. Marx added that things are “working really well” with repair designers WSP and contractor Kraemer NA.
Then she moved on to address the recurring question of what exactly went wrong with the bridge, leading to the cracking that required its emergency closure on March 23, 2020:
In short, “insufficient post-tensioning” was the problem, Marx summarized, “even though it was designed to the standards of the time.” The cracking occurred in all three spans; the center span has been stabilized “to prevent the bridge from falling down. That wasn’t any kind of restoration that was adequate to restoring traffic on the bridge.” Zimbabwe added that the cracking continued even after “live load” – traffic – was removed, since most of the bridge’s load is actually its own weight. (This is the point where they then moved on to the “why can’t the bridge be partially reopened?” question, addressed above.)
A Task Force member asked in chat (which is not visible in the stream), is the repair project still on track for mid-2022? Yes, said Marx. CTF member Anne Higuera of Ventana Construction (WSB sponsor) asked for clarification on this funding slide:
Marx said the bottom line is that the project is now “fully funded.” Zimbabwe elaborated that “there’s no funding impediment to keep us from moving forward.”
SW ANDOVER OVERPASS: Austin brought up the pedestrian/bicycle-bridge closure we covered earlier this week. Marx reiterated that “SPD Crime Prevention let us know there were all kinds of illegal activities” happening there, plus the trespassing issue. “We’re sorry we didn’t give more notice,” she said, and said they’re working on more public communication. The project, meantime, will start in September and last three months. What about opening it during weekday hours? No. (Councilmember Herbold’s office is pursuing this too, we confirmed today; we expect a followup early next week if not sooner.)
RECONNECT WEST SEATTLE: Updates from program manager Sara Zora: As also reported here earlier this week, the temporary-signal work by the Duwamish Longhouse will start soon and will be weekends only. The Highland Park Way/West Marginal intersection work, also continuing on weekends only, will be finished next month. In late August, an “incentives” program will launch, to try to get more people to try alternative means of travel:
They’ll be spending more than $1 million to try to encourage alternative travel.
LOW BRIDGE ACCESS: Zora had a stats update:
If you want to apply for access starting in September, this Sunday is the deadline – go here. Colleen Desmond of Highland Park asked if they have stats about crashes on detour routes, after these stats:
They do but didn’t have it handy, and will bring it in the future. She also thanked SDOT for the added turn signal at 8th/Roxbury.
SAL THE SALMON VIDEO: Don Armeni Boat Ramp is a popular place for filming. Earlier this summer, an SDOT video was shot there, featuring the salmon puppet that’s used to promote travel alternatives. It’ll be part of the alternative-commute campaign. Meeting attendees got a preview (which you can see toward the end of the video above – starting at 1:18:45).
16TH SW: Barker asked about the status of speed-concerned neighbors. Zora said they’ve gathered data and would be having an internal meeting today (Friday), so there’ll be info to share with the community after that,
NEXT MEETING: Noon Wednesday, September 15th, noon.