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Dori: How much graft, corruption was involved in West Seattle Bridge?

West Seattle Bridge (Seattle DOT via Flickr)

Wednesday afternoon, we learned the crumbling West Seattle Bridge will remain closed until at least 2022 and may never reopen. This is just the latest transportation nightmare in a region where such projects have become a disaster.

We see incredible examples of bridge engineering in our region. The Aurora Bridge is gorgeous and has been carrying cars for 88 years.

The I-5 Ship Canal Bridge is double-decked, 4,429 feet long, and has been a workhorse structure for 59 years.

There was a time when transportation projects were efficient, well-designed, and engineered and built to last.

Which brings me to ask the question: Just how much graft and corruption was involved in the building of the West Seattle Bridge?

Sadly, in the last 50 years, under our area’s one-party rule, transportation projects have been about extracting as much money as possible from taxpayers and enriching the politically well-connected and powerful.

The West Seattle Bridge is relatively young. Citizens were told it would last at least 75 years. But it may be dead at age 36.

The City of Seattle oversaw and managed the project in the early 80s. But who was really paying any attention? The people running the city back then is a who’s-who of Seattle political royalty. Charles Royer was mayor. People like Norm Rice and Jeanette Williams (who the bridge is named after) were on the city council. But who was paying attention to this project as the taxpayers were obviously being ripped off?

And this massive bit of thievery shouldn’t have been a surprise. As Wiki says about the ramp-up to the building of the bridge:

Three companies eventually bid to design the bridge for $1.5 million. However, the city engineer chose a fourth company that was financially connected to the speaker of the state house. The price from this fourth company was triple the cost of the other three. This was a result of a series of bribes involving the head of the House Transportation Committee, the city engineer and others. Despite the 68 percent support in the 1968 ballot measure, the state withdrew its urban streets money due to the scandal. In 1976 and 1977, the conspirators were placed on trial and imprisoned.

Apparently, a lot of people got very rich while building an incredibly shoddy bridge. And so we can add the West Seattle Bridge to the long list of transportation projects that have robbed the taxpayers blind around here. Sound Transit is tens-of-billions of dollars over budget – phase one is 14 years behind schedule and counting.

We still haven’t gotten the price tag on the Seattle Tunnel. It will come in a billion over budget. With less capacity than the viaduct it replaced. We’re spending over $100-billion on transportation projects in the region only to have some of the worst gridlock in the nation.

And that’s because for decades transportation in this area has not been about moving people efficiently around. It has been an efficient way to move money around — from the hard-working taxpayers to the politically connected.

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