Two weeks from West Seattle Bridge decision, SDOT leans toward replacement

Oct 8, 2020, 6:56 AM
west seattle bridge...
West Seattle Bridge. (SDOT/flickr)

We’re two weeks from a decision on whether to repair or replace the closed West Seattle Bridge, and the city appears to be leaning toward replacement. At least that’s the feeling after the latest meeting of the community task force.

While the Seattle Department of Transportation might be leaning toward replacement, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan didn’t show her hand while meeting with the group.

“How much is it going to cost, how long is it going to take, how long is it going to last are kind of the three elements, but buried beneath each of those are some uncertainty, a lot of risk, and a lot of factors about the build environment today versus five years from now, or seven years from now,” she said.

One of Durkan’s key goals is to get the best fix for the situation as fast as she can. She knows this closure is hurting the entire West Seattle community.

“This has been bad,” she said. “This has been awful for West Seattle, and the worst part about it is there’s no immediate fix. We know there’s going to be ongoing negative impacts.”

West Marginal Way could lose half its capacity, even as lifeline for West Seattle

There are still no dollar figures being thrown around in public for the potential options, but the city has laid out the general case for each one.

The repair option is the cheapest on the front end, but it comes with a lifetime of maintenance costs to make sure that repair is doing the job. It could add 15-40 years of life to the bridge, but there is no guarantee it won’t fail again, possibly before that optimistic timeline. And there is no guarantee it could hold the same capacity as before the closure.

If a replacement is the chosen plan, it could be done in 2022.

“We would first need to complete the stabilization work to see how the bridge responds,” the city’s Heather Marx said. “There is a chance that the bridge doesn’t respond to stabilization, so then we’d have to rethink our options.”

Translated: The city would have to go to immediate replacement, which would create another bridge closure.

There is going to be another bridge closure if the repair option is chosen, it’s just a matter of when.

There are three replacement options still left on the table. One is to replace the superstructure only, another is a full replacement with a new bridge, and the third is a full replacement with a tunnel. The option to only replace the failing middle section has been eliminated.

A replacement, no matter which option is chosen, has a much higher front end cost, but lower costs in maintenance over a 75-year lifetime. It would also take longer, up to 2026. The tunnel option is the most expensive and would take the longest, according to the city, with traffic not returning to the corridor until 2030.

Marx said the members of this task force must decide what they value the most.

“Speed or certainty?,” she asked the group. “Would you rather have it open and then closed, and open again, or would you rather have it closed and open forever?”

Task force members, like Jen Temple, now have about two weeks to give their thoughts to the mayor on what they believe the community wants. She wants the repair option to keep West Seattle from dying on the vine.

“If we can repair, and we’ve heard it will be safe, and we’ve heard that it can last for 15-40 years, given the cost to the community of waiting any longer, the choice seems fairly obvious,” she told the group.

History of the West Seattle Bridge

But here’s the key takeaway in all of this: The decision the mayor makes in two weeks will only be on whether the city will repair the bridge first and then replace it in the future, or whether the city will go directly to replacement.

The replacement options are just baselines for what a replacement might be since they can change, or different ideas for replacement can be explored once this decision is made. There is a lengthy type, size, and location study that will begin immediately, if replacement is the decision, that will determine what the replacement will actually be for the bridge.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.


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Two weeks from West Seattle Bridge decision, SDOT leans toward replacement