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Tolling in the mix as a funding option to pay for West Seattle Bridge fix

West Seattle Bridge (Seattle DOT via Flickr)

Seattle has started talking finances for repairing or replacing the West Seattle Bridge, and tolling is in the mix.

Why is it taking so long to figure out the West Seattle Bridge?

While the decision to replace or repair the bridge has not yet been made, the city is scrambling to find ways to pay for what will be an expensive project, no matter the choice. Downtown mobility director Heather Marx told the community task force that’s considering bridge options that everything is on the table right now.

“My favorite joke about this is ‘we’re going to need five bucks from everybody,'” she said. “It’s unlikely that any one funding option is going to be enough. We have to pursue every funding option.”

And that includes tolling.

Right now, there is no real understanding of what tolling means for this project or how much tolling would be needed to help fund it. Marx said a complete investment grade traffic and revenue study will be done to get those answers.

“It’s going to investigate tolling scenarios and related traffic diversion,” Marx said. “That traffic diversion has an impact, and this study would help us describe and understand what kind of impact that diversion would have on the rest of the system.”

As you might imagine, even the thought of tolling is not something people in West Seattle are interested in.

“People are going to riot if there’s a toll,” West Seattle restaurant owner Dan Austin said.

Austin told the group in a breakout session that West Seattle has been through enough.

“West Seattle has had 12 years of traffic disruption, between the Spokane Street widening, the viaduct tear-down, and now this wonderful project,” he said. “If we’re going to get charged for being disconnected from the rest of the region, it’s going to be a hard sell for folks.”

Other funding options include federal dollars, grants, loans, and moving current dollars from other projects and priorities. There could even be a citywide ballot measure to approve new taxes to fund the project.

As for the bridge itself, the contractor tasked with shoring up the cracking span is close to getting the first sections of carbon fiber wrap installed.

“We are excited to be on the bridge,” Seattle bridge engineer Matt Donahue told the group.

The contractor should be hoisting the work platform into place on Monday.

“They’re cutting holes in the bridge so that we can take wire rope hoists that are mounted to steel frames, place them on top of the bridge, drop those wire ropes down through the holes that we have cut for access and then pick up a lifting frame that’s currently sitting next to the bridge.”

The carbon fiber wrapping will follow.

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

On the replacement side of the equation, the city will take a complete look at a tunnel option, and that will be added to the cost-benefit analysis being done. So it appears a tunnel will get a fair shake from the experts.

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