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Audit finds Seattle doesn’t spend enough money on bridge maintenance

University Bridge and I-5. (Photo courtesy of SDOT Flickr)

An audit of 77 bridges across Seattle makes 10 recommendations for improving the city’s bridge maintenance and investment policies.

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Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen, chair of the council’s transportation committee, requested the audit, released on Monday, of bridges owned and managed by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).

“I requested this audit of our bridges because the rapid deterioration of the West Seattle Bridge underscored the need for city officials and the general public to have a clear, thorough, and independent understanding of the condition of major bridges throughout Seattle, including the adequacy of the City’s preventative maintenance investments and practices,” Pedersen said.

Bridges require large investments to build and maintain, Pedersen says, in order to make sure they remain safe for generations to come.

“In a city defined by its many waterways, our bridges connect us,” he said. “And this audit report proves city government must do a better job investing in this basic infrastructure.”

The SDOT says the audit offers clear and helpful ways to strengthen the current bridge maintenance programs, agreeing with most of the recommendations. It also says public safety is the department’s No. 1 commitment.

“We’ve already begun this effort, but when it comes to maintaining public safety, we always strive to do better, and this audit serves to bolster those critical improvements already underway,” reads SDOT’s blog post.

Additionally, SDOT said one of the takeaways of the audit was that the issues that led to the closure of the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge do not appear to be the result of any deficiency in the bridge maintenance program. The department also added that the most critical challenge is funding.

History of the West Seattle Bridge

The audit also concluded that the city government’s annual spending is far below what is needed to maintain its bridges. SDOT confirmed this, adding that it “estimates its annual spending is tens of millions of dollars less than what is needed to maintain its bridges.”

“I am hopeful that Mayor Durkan and the City Council will pay close attention to this audit report and respond appropriately during the 2021 budget discussions to ensure that critical infrastructure does not continue to deteriorate with potentially disastrous consequences,” Pedersen said.

City Auditor David G. Jones says the report shows a gap between what is budgeted for bridge maintenance and what is needed to keep them in good condition.

“Our recommendations are for activities that SDOT should do now to better inform where investments are made, and more effectively use the resources they currently have,” Jones said.

The auditor’s report will be presented to the Seattle City Council this Wednesday, Sept. 16. The full report is available online here.

The KIRO Radio Newsdesk contributed to this report.

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