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West Seattle Bridge
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Mayor Durkan declares civil emergency over closure of West Seattle Bridge

The West Seattle Bridge. (SDOT, Flickr)

Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Thursday that she is declaring a civil emergency over the ongoing closure of the West Seattle Bridge.

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

This is the first time a Mayor of Seattle has declared a civil emergency in response to a piece of infrastructure.

Mayor Durkan also signed an emergency order requesting state and federal funding assistance with the repair or replacement, issuing the following statement:

Our cities are facing a series of unprecedented crises, including rising COVID-19 cases and a significant economic crisis. At the same time, residents, workers, and businesses have been deeply impacted by the closure of the West Seattle Bridge — the City’s busiest bridge. As SDOT continues to mitigate traffic impacts and stabilize the bridge while evaluating repair and replace options, this emergency proclamation will give Seattle the tools we need to expedite permitting and procurement, and strengthen our efforts to receive state and federal funding.

The declaration allows the city to speed up the permitting and contract procurement process. It can also ask for state and federal funding for the traffic mitigation plans currently being created to deal with the loss of the high bridge.

SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe also released a statement commenting on the move:

Safely restoring travel capacity across the Duwamish continues to be of the highest priority at SDOT. As we continue to work with the speed and urgency this crisis deserves, I applaud Mayor Durkan’s proclamation today declaring the closure of the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge a City emergency to bolster our efforts. This is a marathon at sprint pace, and this emergency proclamation elevates efforts to secure the resources and broader state and federal support needed to sustain these efforts for as long as it takes to deliver the best possible outcomes for West Seattle and the surrounding communities.

The city believes the bridge can be repaired, as does the Technical Advisory Panel helping the city, but it has not yet decided if it should be repaired. Repair and replacement options are both being considered. The city does not know how much either option will cost. A cost-benefit analysis is underway and should be completed by the fall.

“We urgently need a regional approach for the replacement of the West Seattle Bridge,” Peter Steinbrueck, Port of Seattle Commission President, Co-Chair of The Northwest Seaport Alliance said. “Tens of thousands of family-wage jobs depend on the movement of goods in the busiest freight corridor in the state, which is also adjacent to our largest investment — the Terminal 5 container handling facility.”

History of the West Seattle Bridge

The 36-year-old bridge was closed to traffic in March, after a series of cracks began aggressively expanding. That has left the 100,000 people a day that normally used the bridge scrambling to find other ways across the Duwamish River. The Lower Spokane Street Bridge is being restricted to emergency vehicles, transit, and freight.

Deb Barker, a member of the West Seattle Bridge Task Force praised the emergency declaration, issuing the following statement:

The Mayoral Proclamation of Civil Emergency tells the rest of the City and the region that the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge closure is a life-impacting event of epic proportion for thousands of people, and that it is not business as usual in West Seattle until the bridge connection is restored. I thank Mayor Durkan for acknowledging the reality of the emergency situation and signing this important document. I urge the City’s partners to think outside of the box as they support the City in this emergency. Thank You Mayor Durkan.

The city is currently working with all the neighborhoods in West Seattle and the Duwamish Valley to come up with creative traffic mitigation plans to help with the changing traffic patterns.  The city wants them to cost less than $100,000 each and take less than a year to build.

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