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Former Seattle mayor: SDOT plans for Magnolia Bridge replacement ‘disgraceful’

The Magnolia Bridge. (KIRO 7)

“Disgraceful.” That’s the word former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn used to describe plans proposed by SDOT to replace the aging Magnolia Bridge, claiming they contradict the city’s position on reducing emissions.

Seattleites weigh in on alternatives to Magnolia Bridge replacement

The study proposes four potential projects that would replace the 90-year-old Magnolia Bridge. Those options are:

  • A full demolition and replacement of the Magnolia Bridge
  • An entirely new Armory Way bridge between 15th Avenue West and Thorndyke Avenue, and reinforcement of the current Magnolia Bridge
  • Reconstructing the Lower Magnolia Bridge, and widening of the Dravus Street Bridge
  • Demolishing most of the Magnolia Bridge and widening of the Dravus Street Bridge

The Armory Way bridge project rated the highest in SDOT’s study, essentially creating a whole new route through the neighborhood. It comes with an estimated cost somewhere around $266 million. The most expensive project would be a full replacement of the Magnolia Bridge, which would run the city as much as $420 million. As of last week, SDOT has yet to identify a funding source for its proposals.

The main criticism from former Mayor Mike McGinn comes from an assumption the study makes regarding the future of drivers in Seattle.

“SDOT refused to consider any bridge replacement option that did not facilitate a dramatic increase in driving,” he Tweeted out last Thursday. “Does our city government care in the slightest about climate change? They are planning on — indeed planning for — increasing our carbon emissions. Disgraceful.”

Flawed estimates?

The study projects an increase in vehicle volumes every year through 2035. Past data that dates back to 2006, though, indicates a sizable decrease in average daily traffic over the last decade-plus.

“The Magnolia Bridge replacement study eliminates options based on the idea that car use will inexorably rise and roads must be designed to accommodate that,” McGinn said. “Historically, the prediction models have been very wrong.”

McGinn goes on to point out that the proposals under consideration run in direct opposition to the city’s climate goals.

The “no build” option

SDOT cites increased travel times should the city simply demolish the Magnolia Bridge and not account for an alternative route in and out of the neighborhood.

According to its study, it would take drivers just over two hours to get from Magnolia to Elliot Avenue West during the morning commute under the “no build” option, and over an hour and 20 minutes to get from Magnolia to Smith Cove.

The “no build” estimate to get from Magnolia to the Ballard Bridge during the a.m. commute is 50 minutes. According to Google Maps, a current route using the Magnolia Bridge takes roughly 7 to 12 minutes at 9:30 a.m. on weekdays. An existing alternate route that sends drivers to West Dravus rather than the Magnolia Bridge takes around 8 to 12 minutes.

In the past, residents of the neighborhood have cited concerns over being cut off from the rest of the city without a suitable replacement for the bridge.

“I moved here a year ago; this is heartbreaking,” said one resident, speaking at a 2018 forum hosted by SDOT. “You’re going to lower property values and loop around the city.”

Others have called SDOT’s traffic estimates into question, citing the impending presence of light rail in the north end among other factors that could create congestion relief.

SDOT will be hosting a “community engagement meeting” on Thursday, “to share the planning study results and answer questions.” It will take place at Catharine Blane K-8, between 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

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