By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
LOW BRIDGE PROBLEM POSTMORTEM: The recent trouble forced SDOT to do pump work that was already on the schedule for just days after the breakdown, noted bridge-program director Heather Marx. She also said the pump problem affected maritime traffic much more than vehicle traffic, delaying barges with cargo including perishable groceries for Southeast Alaska. So they expedited to November 4-5 a pump replacement that originally had been scheduled for November 9th. They also discovered “a filter had broken” and that added extra work – 16 barrels of hydraulic fluid had to be drained and replaced. There’s one more project ahead, a cylinder replacement planned December 10th-13th:
There’s no impact expected to vehicle traffic but openings for marine traffic will be restricted. Meantime, separate from all this, the controls upgrade for the low bridge is currently set for mid-2022, after the high bridge reopens.
LOW BRIDGE ACCESS: SDOT’s Maureen Sheehan led these updates. Here’s how access is going:
Sheehan pointed out the increase in freight vehicles, sooner than anticipated, and the reminder that they’ll ask authorized users to shift trips to different dayparts when Terminal 5‘s first berth opens, further increasing low-bridge usage.
Task force co-chair Greg Nickels asked member Bob Watters of SSA Marine – T-5’s tenant – to talk about what’s being done to try to reduce worker trips. They’re looking at “flexing start times at the terminal” – so all the workers aren’t coming across at once. That’s going to help a lot, he said. Regarding previous discussions of a shuttle, Watters said they’re examining ways to shuttle “casual labor” to and from the ILWU hall. The logistics would depend on “dispatch schedule” – labor orders are placed the day before, and they don’t know how many casuals will be involved each day. “No solution yet, we’re still trying to work through it.” Daily workforce would be 25 to 30 percent casuals. Metro is involved in the discussions.
Sheehan also updated traffic volumes – note that the gray sections represent anticipated usage once T-5 opens.
RECONNECT WEST SEATTLE: SDOT’s Trevor Partap brought more collision information. The detour routes – except for West Marginal and South Michigan – have had lower collision rates, at least in terms of collisions reported to SPD.
The temporary Duwamish Longhouse-vicinity signal on West Marginal will be turned on in late November – if weather allows installation of crosswalk markings. Design for the permanent signal will be completed next year.
Partap outlined three other changes recently made – for one, the post-and-curb island on West Marginal just north of Front that “keeps everybody in the two southbound lanes” and, he said, was installed at the request of businesses. The second one was to discourage last-minute lane changes to get to the 1st Avenue S. Bridge. The third one is to make sure people don’t clog a lane intended for transit and authorized users.
Could the island technique be deployed in other stretches to keep people from using it as an unauthorized passing lane? Nickels added. Partap said yes, they’re thinking about other locations, but talking with SFD to be sure their routes aren’t hindered.
Progress on the “Flip Your Trip” alternative-travel program was presented too – 2,350 registrations so far. Too soon to observe “trends” among participants. They’re continuing to promote vanpooling.
HIGH-BRIDGE REPLACEMENT PLANNING: Though SDOT stresses that a new bridge is many decades away – the repaired bridge is expected to last until 2060 – they’ve continued to study it. As Wes Ducey put it, this is about “putting that time-travel hat on.” He spent a fair amount of time on context for the limits of the existing right of way:
The study looks at concepts both aligned with where the current bridge is, and elsewhere – north of it, south of it, a hybrid, even a tunnel. They focused on maintaining the capacity and access of the current bridge. Here’s how the concepts ranked – red to green was worst to best:
The idea of a tunnel didn’t do well, Ducey said, and has been basically ruled out entirely. At that point, CTF member Deb Barker asked him where the Sound Transit plan to cross the Duwamish for West Seattle light rail factors in – as he hadn’t mentioned it. “We’re coordinating with them all throughout this process,” he replied.
Construction of concepts outside the current right-of-way would take about eight years, he noted. They also would affect businesses and potentially the Pigeon Point neighborhood. For an online (same alignment as current bridge) replacement, they would take down the current bridge in halves, so it would remain half-open during the four or so years of construction. “Staying within the existing footprint reduces impacts,” he summarized. The online option would be shorter than the others – 2,300 linear feet, compared to, for example, 3,400 for a north option, and 15,000 linear feet for a tunnel. A “hybrid bridge” would also require about four years of closures but they’d be able to maintain “five or six lanes” – they’d build a north structure, keep the existing bridge open, then build a south structure for eastbound traffic.
Nickels noted at that point that the Spokane Street Viaduct east of the bridge will likely be in line for replacement by then. Barker wondered who all is working on this with SDOT; ‘a team of structural engineering and long-term-planning folks” hired as consultants, Ducey replied. Barker was asking about bridge width when Marx interjected, “This is just about where a bridge would fit.” CTF member Diane Sosne noted that there had been discussion some time back that this might be needed sooner. Marx said that estimate was from a time when they knew less about the current bridge repairs’ prospects, and they’ve since become more confident that replacement is truly only a “long-term project.” CTF member Anne Higuera of Ventana Construction (WSB sponsor) wondered about whether this will be an ongoing process for SDOT – or whether they’re “looking at this for six months” and then setting it aside? And how can people communicate ideas for the process? Marx stressed again that “we’re much more comfortable it’s going to be closer to the 40-year timeline” so they probably won’t start working in earnest until 10 years before that. What Ducey is working on now is really just “a line on a map” – what line the replacement someday should follow. You can send in other ideas but it’s “unlikely they will be well-preserved,” Marx said. The full report on all this is expected to be done by year’s end.
TASK FORCE’S FUTURE: In the wrapup, Nickels – a former two-term mayor – noted that Seattle has a new mayor-elect and there’s no certainty about whether Bruce Harrell will value the task force continuing to serve, since the group was created by outgoing Mayor Jenny Durkan. So what happens after the next meeting – which might have “a special guest,” he said – is unclear.
NEXT MEETING: 4 pm December 9th, online.
VIDEO: Here’s the recording of this meeting, in its entirety: