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West Seattle Bridge
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Decision delayed on West Seattle Bridge; new replacement option on table

Traffic on the West Seattle Bridge. (WSDOT)

There have been some major developments in the West Seattle Bridge saga: The decision to repair or replace will not be made next week as scheduled, and now there’s a new replacement option that could get people back on the bridge in less than three years.

Region’s maritime industry hangs on West Seattle Bridge decision

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan was supposed to decide next Wednesday on whether to repair the cracking bridge then replace it, or go straight to replacement. That is not going to happen because the cost-benefit analysis has not been given to the community task force advising the mayor on what would be the best way to go.

Member Peter Goldman told the group they need to see the actual dollar figures before making a recommendation.

“I don’t think our task force would be equipped to make any kind of recommendation without having some sort of reasonable ballpark of what things are going to cost,” he said. “You can’t decide to sell the used car unless you know how much a new car is going to cost and how long the old transmission might last.”

The task force will get the the 80-page cost-benefit analysis on Monday. Former Mayor Greg Nickels, who is also part of the task force, said they need fundamental facts like how long a repair would last or how much a replacement will cost.

“Those are the kinds of things that [Mayor Durkan] is going to need to make the call between repair or replace, and that’s the kind of information we are going to need to give her our best advice,” he said.

The task force also found out that some of the data it has been relying on is not based on any measurement or real calculations. Engineers have said that a repair could last 15-40 years. The city’s Heather Marx said that’s not really based on data.

“Those numbers, 15 and 40, are not the result of any modeling,” she said. “They are the result of some assumptions that are based in the building codes that we use to build bridges.”

That’s why city engineer Matt Donahue told the group it’s unknown whether a repair would actually work at all or return any lifespan to the bridge.

“I think it’s still too early to say that the bridge overall is in good enough condition to have a tolerable level of risk that repairs will work as intended,” he said.

And now, a week before the scheduled decision, there is a new potential option to replace the bridge at a much faster rate, almost as fast as the timeline for the full repair.

Seattle transportation department head Sam Zimbabwe told the group that a new contractor who has been brought on board has proposed a steel bridge. This contractor built a bridge over Lake Champlain, between New York and Vermont, in just over two years, and it’s just shorter than the span needed for the West Seattle Bridge.

“For all of us, a five or six year timeline is really challenging to think about that a bridge would be closed for that amount of time,” Zimbabwe said.

But to build that bridge on the East Coast, the contractor was able to skirt the environmental process and cut the red tape down from years to just weeks. It’s not clear if that can happen here.

Task force member Dan Austin is upset. He said to be getting this information seven months after the closure just doesn’t cut it.

“I’m frustrated that 11 meetings in at this point that we’re still just hearing about a new possible option,” he said.

Austin echoed the feelings of a lot of task force members who are frustrated with process.

This new replacement option and the full cost-benefit analysis will now be scrutinized by the group over the next few weeks. The mayor’s office tells me there is no official date, yet, for when the mayor will make her final decision.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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