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West Seattle Bridge
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SDOT asking city council for money for the West Seattle Bridge

The West Seattle Bridge is under construction. (SDOT, Flickr)

We are still waiting to find out if the City of Seattle is going to replace or repair the cracking West Seattle Bridge, but the bills for the current work are coming due.

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

The Seattle Department of Transportation needs money fast to keep the project moving. All that high-tech monitoring equipment costs money. So does the carbon fiber wrapping to secure the cracking section, which is well underway. SDOT expects to spend between $160-225 million on the bridge program over 2020 and 2021, which is money the department doesn’t have right now.

That’s why SDOT is asking the city council for the approval to move $70 million from another pot of money to fund the West Seattle Bridge work. It’s called an interfund loan, and it’s something downtown mobility director Heather Marx said is quite common.

“We’re asking the city council to give us permission to borrow money from another fund and then we’ll pay that fund back through a bond sale that the city will do next year,” she said.

This money will go to the ongoing stabilization and monitoring. It will also pay for the traffic mitigation projects that the city comes up with, and it will fund repair work on the Lower Spokane Street Bridge.

“This is really just to get us through the next handful of months until we can do that next bond sale and put us in a better position because we will know whether we’re headed down the repair or replacement route,” Marx said.

I asked Marx whether she’s worried that the city council will allow this move, considering how cash-strapped the city is during this pandemic. The council has already approved spending nearly all of the city’s emergency funds for pandemic relief, which is money it plans to pay back with the proceeds of the new business payroll tax.

“Maybe I should be concerned,” she said. “I am convinced that the city council cares as much about the people of West Seattle as I do and care as much about the people of West Seattle as the mayor does.”

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SDOT is also asking the council to allow the department to create a Capital Improvement Program that will help pay for work over the following two years.

So where are we in the process right now?

The city has collected 16,000 surveys from West Seattle residents about how their lives have changed since the loss of the bridge and what they would like to see happen as the bridge is repaired or replaced.

On that big question of repair or replacement, the criteria for the cost-benefit analysis will be completed Thursday, and we should know by October what the final plan will be for the bridge.

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