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Former mayor says task force will work hard on West Seattle Bridge plan

The West Seattle Bridge. (Feliks Banel, KIRO Radio)

The West Seattle Bridge has been closed to traffic since March 23 due to deterioration and cracks in the concrete, but now the question is: What are we going to do about it?

A community task force has been assembled with members from all over West Seattle and the Duwamish Valley, which will help provide communication and community engagement around both traffic mitigation efforts and any path forward for the bridge.

Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels is a co-chair of this group along with Paulina López, the executive director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition.

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“We will be advising the mayor on a range of issues, including whether we think that repair of the current bridge makes sense from a cost benefit analysis, or whether we should go immediately to a permanent replacement for it,” Nickels told KIRO Nights. “We’re going to try and figure out how to mitigate the impact on people who relied on the bridge, and on the neighborhoods in the South Duwamish area who are impacted by the new traffic that’s going through their neighborhood.”

The group will also consider what a replacement should look like, whether that’s completed now or in a few years after a repaired bridge reaches the end of its lifespan.

Nickels said some of the questions they’re going to try and answer in this process include: How difficult would repair be? How expensive would it be? How reliable would it be versus going directly to a full replacement or partial replacement?

“Those are unanswered questions, and we’re gonna be working very, very hard to try and find those answers, share them with the public, and then give our best advice to the mayor on how to proceed,” he said.

There has also been discussion in the past about connecting light rail to West Seattle. This, Nickels said, is another part of the equation the community group will discuss.

“That will be one of the one of the things that we look at, whether that makes sense,” he said. “If it saves a significant amount of money and potentially time, then that’s something we’ll look very, very closely at. On the other hand, one of the things, lessons perhaps, we’ve learned here is redundancy. If we had, for instance, kept the old four lane West Seattle Bridge that was still working even after the ship hit the other one, we would have four lanes coming in and out instead of the two lane swing bridge that replaced it.”

History of the West Seattle Bridge 

“Redundancy in the transportation system is a benefit, and we’ll need to weigh the potential cost savings along with the potential benefit of the of redundancy,” Nickels added.

He gave the example that if light rail went out, we’d still have the vehicle bridge; if the vehicle bridge went out, we’d still have the light rail.

The group will also look at traffic mitigation in the short-term, including water taxis, buses, and bicycles.

“But we’re also going to take a look at what those provide in the long term,” Nickels said. “People are changing. I think more people are gonna be working at home now that companies are are comfortable that they can get productivity from that. I think that people are going to be open to other ways of moving about — they’re gonna have to be in the short term. And I think that that could could be part of a long term answer as well.”

In addition to Nickels and Lopez, there are 19 other members of the advisory group.

“This is a group that the mayor has assembled —  they are neighborhood activists and representatives, they’re business owners and operators, and they are the elected officials who are involved either in this area as district representatives, or in the case of one of the commissioners from the port, as they have two major facilities along this route,” Nickels said.

The Seattle Department of Transportation also formed a technical advisory panel, separate from the community task force.

Nickels said there is not a set deadline for answers from the community group, but expects to be working on this for at least a year.

“There are numerous questions that need to be answered, and there are different time frames,” he said. “So the question of whether it’s going to be repaired or replaced is one that’s going to come up pretty quickly — I would anticipate that happening late June, early July.”

“The question of a long-term solution, that’s going to take a little more time. If the repair is not feasible, then it will be on a shorter time frame. If the repair is feasible, we have the luxury of a little bit more time,” Nickels added.

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