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West Seattle Bridge
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SDOT says West Seattle Bridge can be fixed, debates whether it should be

The West Seattle Bridge. (SDOT, Flickr)

A surprising announcement on the West Seattle Bridge: Engineers now say they can fix it. But should they?

West Seattle seeing ‘massive’ increase in traffic without bridge

When Seattle bridge engineer Matt Donahue started briefing the large community task force on the bridge Wednesday, no one was expecting him to say this:

“We know that we can fix the bridge,” he said. “The question that we are asking is ‘should we?’ We would definitely be remiss to just spend a lot of time and money to repair it just because we can.”

This new analysis from Donahue comes after extensive monitoring, and even the use of ground-penetrating radar to check the condition of the steel inside the cracking concrete. He doesn’t know what a potential fix might look like, and this doesn’t mean repairing the bridge has eliminated the possibility of a straight replacement.

“All sorts of things, questions in terms of life-cycle cost analysis, fatal flaws, benefits, pros and cons of each situation will be addressed,” he detailed.

And that does include a tunnel option for potential replacement.

Dan Austin of the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce made sure that came up.

“Everything you said was replacement bridge,” Austin said. “Is that precluding a tunnel option? I just want to make sure that’s on the table.”

Donahue promised that a tunnel would be explored as a potential option. He also told the group that work to shore up the bridge is already underway.

“They are now doing active construction,” he said. “It’s not on the bridge, but it’s near the bridge in a construction yard they have procured where they have started to assemble these steel lifting frames they will use to get up to the underside of the bridge to start installing a carbon-fiber wrap.”

Could a tunnel be the best replacement for the West Seattle Bridge?

There was also a lengthy discussion on what traffic is doing with the high bridge out of commission, and how that traffic is already impacting neighborhoods, even with only 50% of normal trips being made right now.

Downtown mobility director Heather Marx said some places on West Marginal Way have seen traffic increases of well over 100%. She says it’s going to take a joint community effort to mitigate the impacts.

“The closure of the bridge has created a traffic management conundrum that isn’t going to be able to be solved by some signal timing changes or some traffic circles,” she warned.

Marx said it will take a giant shift in how West Seattle people get around. She wants to see car traffic drop by nearly 50%, pushing options like biking and even walking to commute from West Seattle.

There was also a continuing theme during the meeting of looking at the West Seattle Bridge crisis through a “racial equity lens.” Marx said it isn’t right to send all the traffic from the more affluent sections of the peninsula into the less affluent neighborhoods.

“We need to think very carefully from an equity perspective about what it means to send that many more individual vehicles through communities and how that increases the racial, environmental, and social injustice that those communities are already facing,” she said.

The city is looking for community ideas for projects to help mitigate traffic that cost less than $100,000 and will take less than a year to build.

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