By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Don’t lose hope yet about the West Seattle Bridge reopening schedule.
Though the city has issued dire warnings of delays resulting from the ongoing concrete-drivers strike, SDOT’s program director Heather Marx offered a little optimism at tonight’s monthly meeting of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition.
She and City Council Transportation and Public Utilities Committee chair Alex Pedersen were the spotlight guests at the WSTC’s online meeting:
WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE UPDATES: Marx did not have specifics on the status of the strike. (The two sides met with a mediator today; here’s the union’s just-posted recap; added Friday, here’s the companies’ recap.) But she started by recapping the strike’s effects on the bridge project (as originally reported here), and what the city is doing to try to work around concrete’s unavailability as much as it can.
“We’re continuing to prioritize other (parts) of the work (but) there is a point where we can’t go any further without the concrete,” she stressed. They’re changed the way they’re staging the forms that are awaiting concrete so that once it’s ready, they’ll be ready. She reiterated that the project needs 245 yards of a specialized concrete mix, “more flowable and self-compacting.”
But though last Sunday was the date by which the city said concrete had to be available for the work to stay on schedule, “We’re still hoping to open in mid-2022,” Marx said. “We will know more about that date with precision after we have our last concrete pour.”
To continue working while awaiting concrete, the contractor is ready to move up some of the low-bridge work, too.
“Our initial intention had been to focus all our attention and time on the high bridge,” said Marx. Meantime, they’re also still looking ahead to post-repairs – planning to evaluate the Reconnect West Seattle projects (traffic-calming, commuting alternatives, etc.), for example.
Marx also recapped how low-bridge access is going, noting that some of the ILWU members cleared to use it are now using shuttles that launched with the opening of Terminal 5. So far truck usage is not leading to any need to change low-bridge access policies.
At the west end of the low bridge, she added, SDOT is evaluating the 5-way intersection for changes.
Lots of train-building has meant traffic trouble, so they’re “exploring ways to change access to that north leg so it doesn’t mess up the rest of everything.” The promised Quiet Zone to reduce train noise, meantime, is waiting until after the high bridge reopens; the 5-way work will be sort of a preface to that, but they’re “exploring options and talking to the folks it’s going to impact.”
In Q&A: Again, questions about how much the lack of concrete is pushing back the schedule, and again the answer: “We won’t know the true impact (on the schedule) until we’ve had that last pour.” The bridge does NOT have supply priority once the strike ends and concrete becomes available but “we’re working on that.” Marx insisted they are “working on many avenues to solve this problem,” in response to a question about why the city couldn’t make a temporary contract with some other supplier. But she said the city has a “longstanding policy to not use independent suppliers when there is a strike situation.”
WSTC’s Deb Barker asked about malfunctioning radar speed signs; WSTC’s Jon Wright suggested Find It Fix It and Marx seconded that.
CITY COUNCIL TRANSPORTATION CHAIR: Councilmember Alex Pedersen (whose district is in Northeast Seattle) made his first WSTC appearance. He didn’t have a presentation or speech – it was conducted as conversation/Q&A. Toward the start, he did volunteer his opinion that “SDOT has done an amazing job in responding to this (bridge) crisis.” Pedersen also reiterated that he’d like to see some of the new federal infrastructure funding go toward the city’s maintenance/repair needs. What about third-party funding for Sound Transit light rail (which some routing/station options, if tunneled, might require)? asked WSTC chair Michael Taylor-Judd. Pedersen said his position right now is that “we don’t need third-party funding” – he thinks ST should figure out how to fund what’s optimal for the area. But if third-party funding is eventually needed, “it could come from the private sector,” for one, he said, citing the example of station improvements that “large employers” might want for their workers. Overall, he says it’s still “to be determined” whether third-party funding is needed and where it might come from.
Another question was about coordination between the city and ST when it comes to the latter’s need for a new bridge to get light rail across the Duwamish River. The timelines for an eventual new West Seattle Bridge and for the ST bridge just don’t happen to be aligned, Pedersen noted. Why was the idea of a tunnel replacement for the bridge tossed out? Pedersen said he’s a fan of tunnels, especially when starting from scratch, but in this case, a tunnel replacement’s need for different connections might have made it too complicated.
WSTC’s Kate Wells asked about other priorities Pedersen has as transportation chair, beyond bridges. “We need to encourage people to get back on public transit,” he said, and added that watching transportation-related revenue is important – commercial parking tax revenue is down, for example. Fulfilling promises made under the Move Seattle levy is important before voters are asked to renew it in 2024, he said. The high approval percentage for the Transportation Benefit District was heartening, he said, and there might be an attempt to regionalize it and send it back to voters in 2024, earlier than planned. Pedestrian safety is another issue, with an “upset(ting) amount” of pedestrian deaths. And yes, light rail input, “to be sure they pick good routes” and design stations that are “smoothly integrated into the built environment” as well as accessible and usable.
What about speed limits – some people are trying to stick to the lower limits while others “fly around them”? Pedersen said he supports lower speed limits because that means people, if hit by a driver, are more likely to survive. Unfortunately “there’s more ability and room to speed” because of pandemic-reduced traffic. He also supports enforcement – not necessarily police, he said, but cameras can help.
In conclusion, he urged the group to keep advocating for bridge safety even after the West Seattle Bridge is reopened, and urged support for the proposal he and others (including West Seattle/South Park Councilmember Lisa Herbold) brought forward last year to sell bonds to raise money for some of the citywide work that’s needed.
NEXT MONTH: WSTC might change the date of its March meeting, which is planned as a workshop on how to review and comment on the light-rail Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which is open for commenting until April 28th. It might be hybrid in-person and online.