CHOKEPOINTS

Region’s maritime industry hangs on West Seattle Bridge decision

Oct 9, 2020, 6:20 AM
terminal 5, maritime...
Terminal Five is undergoing a $300 million renovation. Photo taken Sept. 15, 2014. (Port of Seattle/flickr)
(Port of Seattle/flickr)

Buried beneath the ongoing discussions on what to do with the closed West Seattle Bridge has been a great concern that the decision could have a huge impact of some of the best blue-collar jobs in our region.

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

Terminal Five is undergoing a $300 million renovation right now to help lure the biggest container ships in the world to Elliott Bay, and keep the Port of Seattle as a key West Coast player in cargo. Those big ships have been bypassing Seattle, instead choosing British Columbia, which has been beefing up its cargo footprint.

Port of Seattle Commissioner, Peter Steinbrueck, who sits on the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force, has been preaching the importance of repair or replacement scenarios that keep Terminal Five in mind.

“There is so much at stake here that I think it constitutes the greatest risk of all,” he told the task force last month.

The north cargo bay on T-5 is set to open in the spring, with the entire operation opening in 2024. Steinbrueck said the expansion will create more than 6,000 new jobs and bring hundreds of millions of dollars into the region.

And while much of the cargo will be transported to and from T-5 by rail, it will also generate new truck trips. As you know, T-5 and Harbor Island relies on the Lower Spokane Street Bridge and West Marginal Way, both of which are now slammed because of the high bridge closure.

“We cannot operate that terminal with just the low bridge capacity, and the traffic congestion that will only get worse,” he said.

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

The risk to the region’s maritime jobs, almost 60,000 of them, could hang in the balance of what the city decides. That’s something Mayor Durkan is aware of.

“I think what we saw with Boeing tells us that our maritime industry is even more important than ever before,” the mayor told the task force this week. “If we’re looking at high, family wage jobs that are not tech jobs, the maritime industry is providing a disproportionate share of those now with the Boeing jobs leaving.”

The last thing the mayor wants to see is more blue-collar and good union jobs leave the region.

John Persac, who speaks for the maritime industry and the MLK Labor Council, said shipping companies have already expressed concerns that the Port of Seattle won’t be able to deliver on what it has promised because of the West Seattle Bridge closure. He said the city just needs to make a decision and put a timeline in place.

“If there’s a decision to replace sooner, and all of that is built into a timeline, the customers at the port can make decisions accordingly and plan for that,” he said.

The Port of Seattle and the Northwest Seaport Alliance, which also includes the Port of Tacoma, have yet to take a position on the repair or replacement decision, but they believe the region’s maritime industry is at risk because of this entire situation.

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Region’s maritime industry hangs on West Seattle Bridge decision