By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Acknowledgments, applause, even a poem were part of an hourlong event this afternoon on Harbor Island commemorating the impending West Seattle Bridge reopening and acknowledging those involved in the repair project.
It seemed that almost everyone who had some role in what’s transpired since the sudden shutdown March 23, 2020, was there, including former Mayor Jenny Durkan and former SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe. They didn’t speak, though; newly confirmed SDOT director Greg Spotts took the podium first, for a land acknowledgment that mentioned the Muckleshoot and Suquamish tribes and their “Duwamish ancestors,” followed by a Native prayer, and then speeches. Here’s the video:
Here’s the group shot of everyone who spoke:
Mayor Bruce Harrell said the most important thing he could offer was to “thank the people whose lives were impacted,” thanking everyone for their patience and acknowledging the “inconvenience” of the last two and a half years.
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell followed, noting that on Sunday, “the nightmare of this congestion [for detouring] is going to end.” She observed that freight was affected too, and talked about the federal funding that covered more than half the cost of repairs (as noted here last night).
U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, describing herself as a “proud resident of West Seattle,” said she also is proud of the “patience, grit, and determination” people have shown during the 2 1/2 bridgeless years.
Seattle’s Civic Poet Jourdan Imani Keith read a poem composed for the occasion, musing what the bridge might say if it could speak, and reminding all that it has a name (the Jeanette Williams Memorial Bridge, after the city councilmember who secured funding for it 40-plus years ago).
City Councilmember Lisa Herbold spoke of the “stark effects” of the closure and the dramatic change in traffic patterns. She recalled former mayor Durkan’s “big decision” to proceed with repairs rather than replacement.
Port of Seattle Commissioner Hamdi Mohamed – mentioning her West Seattle roots as a Chief Sealth International High School graduate and South Seattle College (WSB sponsor) Running Start student, recapped the port’s partnership on low-bridge access.
Two labor leaders, Monty Anderson of Seattle Building Trades and Katie Garrow of MLK Labor, spoke about their members’ contributions to the repair work. Garrow also served on the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force, whose co-chairs followed her at the microphone: Paulina López of the Duwamish River Community Coalition spoke of relief that the Duwamish Valley (South Park and Georgetown) would soon be free of the extra air pollution brought by detour traffic, and hope that people will come back to the area for other reasons, like dining and shopping; Greg Nickels, former Seattle mayor, reminded everyone that Sunday will be the 910th day since the bridge closed, saying two of his grandchildren have been born in that time. He also spoke of a family member having to use the low bridge to get to cancer treatments, something made possible because the WSBCTF pushed for people undergoing “life-saving treatments” to be added to the list of those who could get permission to use the low bridge during restricted times.
In post-speeches Q&A, we asked if anyone at the city would apologize for the bridge shutdown having to happen at all. Mayor Harrell fielded that one, saying he would “apologize on behalf of the city,” asking for “grace” because “leaders … are human; they make mistakes.”
Along those lines, the citizens coalition West Seattle Bridge NOW sent this statement about the event:
We’re relieved that everyone who’s been impacted by the bridge closure can finally get moving again. But a cause for celebration? Not so much. When the bridge closed without warning two and a half years ago Mayor Jenny Durkan declared an emergency. Then what happened? Bureaucracy as usual. While we sat stuck in traffic, with travel times to get almost anywhere outside of West Seattle doubled, tripled or worse, the city took its sweet time exploring replacement options and finally settled on repairs after community pushback. There was nothing about this process that suggested any increased urgency or accelerated timeline.
We think instead of celebrating, our elected leaders should take stock of why we had to wait two and a half years for a critical transportation link to be restored. West Seattle has already paid the price for the City and SDOT choosing to respond to a transportation emergency with the usual process. In a city rife with bridges with maintenance backlogs we only hope that no other community has to endure what we have for the past 30 months.
The West Seattle Bridge closure should serve as a cautionary tale. We’d love to see a press conference where elected leaders share lessons learned from the closure and what’s being done to avoid a similar debacle. That way we can all feel like our two and a half year traffic jam at least helped prevent the next one.
Other statements issued after today’s event include:
–SDOT’s news release
–City Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Alex Pedersen (who chairs the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee)
As for the bridge itself – the backdrop for this afternoon’s event at Terminal 18 Park – SDOT still isn’t saying exactly when on Sunday it will reopen. Some fencing/signage removal is under way – but SDOT stresses that the bridge is not open yet.
SIDE NOTE: Some people on their way to the event were delayed because, almost predictably, the Duwamish bridges had to open for ship traffic. We waited at the 1st Ave. So. Bridge and by the time we got to the event site, the same vessel was going through the low bridge, a bulk carrier: