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Dori: No way Aurora Bridge repairs weren’t a setup by WSDOT

Engineers assess the underside of the Aurora Bridge. (WSDOT Flickr)

Does anybody — and I mean anybody — believe that the sudden Aurora Bridge repairs are a coincidence?

We got word Sunday night from the Washington State Department of Transportation that they have to close a lane on the Aurora Bridge because of problems with the steel supports holding up the bridge.

What a coinkidink! It comes just one week before you have to get your ballots in, on which the most hotly-contested issue is, of course, the initiative for $30 car tabs, I-976. And bridges have been at the center of the “no on 976” campaign.

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WSDOT reportedly inspected the bridge in September, and took a second look at problem areas over this past weekend. Since when do engineers get sent out over the weekend, when WSDOT has to be pay them overtime?

And then they announced on Sunday, just nine days before ballots have to be sent in, that there are “crumbling infrastructure concerns.” The concerns aren’t big enough to warrant closing the entire bridge, though, so they’re just going to close one lane and mess up people’s commutes for a week.

What would be the strategy behind that? People might get so frustrated with their traffic jam every single day for the next week that they’ll say, “I hate paying $300 for car tabs, but if it would help this traffic to go away, I’ll vote no on 976.” And then of course, for everyone else who is not sitting in Aurora traffic, it’s a fear and shaming tactic. Who would be so heartless as to wish people to be put in danger on our crumbling bridges, all to save money on car tabs?

I absolutely believe that is what has going on here. The “no” campaign has been spending millions of dollars on commercials airing nonstop during prime-time TV and showing bridges around the state, as if they will all fall down if we vote for 976, as if the state does not have plenty of money to pay for upgrades. One of the ads says that the Skagit River Bridge collapsed because we have not put enough money into making sure our old bridges are safe. That is a completely dishonest ad. The Skagit River Bridge collapse had nothing to do with crumbling infrastructure. The bridge collapsed because an oversize truck from Canada hit one of the support girders.

Jay Inslee just released the video of his passionate plea asking people to vote no on 976. Inslee called it “Tim Eyman’s initiative.” What an absolutely deceptive tactic. It is the people’s initiative. Hundreds of thousands of citizens signed a petition asking for a vote on $30 tabs. But he knows that Tim Eyman’s name is poisonous, so he pins that to the initiative, instead of the hundreds of thousands of tax-weary citizens. This shows an absolute disregard for the people of this state.

I’ve told you, when government and media collude, it is usually for a bad purpose. There is no official “yes” campaign, except for people like me, who are despondent about having our cars illegally over-valued so our tabs will be higher. The newspaper editorials, the various city councils have all come out against I-976. The city of Olympia even sent out a mailer on the taxpayers’ dime telling everyone to vote no. That is not legal, but the city did it anyway.

Local and state government is so united on this topic because government desperately wants to keep getting our money. As for media outlets, my guess is that Sound Transit is a big advertiser, and they don’t want to get on the agency’s wrong side.

So this makes me really wonder — if this Aurora Bridge repair is truly an election gambit for the government — will it backfire miserably?

WSDOT responds to Aurora Bridge repairs

Bart Treece, communications manager for WSDOT’s Northwest Region, told me that the bridge repairs had nothing to do with 976, and were the result of a routine inspection that occurs every other autumn.

“Safety is our first priority … we have a responsibility, when we see something that needs to be addressed, to take immediate action,” he said.

He said that the second inspection was done over the weekend rather than on a weekday so as not to disrupt commuters. They chose not to do any of this over the summer, when there already were lane closures on the bridge because it was apparently too much at one time.

The outside southbound lane was the most important to close because that portion of the bridge is not “handling the weight that it should,” according to Treece.

“By closing that one lane, we can keep traffic moving and still reduce the strain until that portion is repaired,” he explained.

I asked him about the Skagit River Bridge commercial. He confirmed that the bridge collapsed due to a truck hitting a beam, but said that the ad has nothing to do with WSDOT and he could not comment on it, as per WSDOT policy.

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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