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Repair or replace? The West Seattle Bridge decision now in mayor’s hands

The Duwamish Waterway viewed from the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge. (Photo courtesy of WSP, via SDOT Blog)

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has heard from the community task force and its thoughts on repairing or replacing the West Seattle Bridge. Now, it’s up to the mayor.

The future of West Seattle is in Mayor Durkan’s hands. Her decision is whether to repair the bridge now, a faster and cheaper option on the front end, or replace it, which is a longer and more expensive up-front plan.

West Seattle business owner Dan Austin almost begged the mayor to spend the $47 million now and repair the bridge immediately.

“We’re hurting,” Austin told the mayor. “We need this bridge restored as soon as possible.”

Task force member Peter Goldman is leaning toward replacement. He told the mayor there is no guarantee a repaired bridge will last the 15-40 years promised, considering the engineers don’t know how it’s responding to the shoring work currently underway.

“I feel for folks in West Seattle who are in hardship right now,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking, but I just don’t see how we can responsibly spend all of this money on something that might not last long.”

By my unofficial count of those that gave their decision to the mayor, it was 9 votes for repair and 8 votes for replacement, but that is just a fraction of total task force who will be giving the mayor their thoughts on paper.

“Mayor, there is not a unanimous feeling,” former Seattle mayor and task force co-chair Greg Nickels said. “You have a hard decision to make, which is why you get the big bucks.”

Nickels is now leaning repair, but he admits he is very intrigued by the three-year rapid replacement plan discussed last week. However, that’s an idea has not fully been vetted.

Does Seattle have the will to fast-track potential West Seattle Bridge replacement?

Many members are like Austin who don’t believe that fast replacement plan will work, considering Seattle’s love for process and procedure.

“I believe that the unicorn project that was thrown out, of a three-year rapid replacement with cutting EIS studies out of the City of Seattle, is a little ludicrous,” he said. “I’m sure it’s technically feasible to build that bridge. It is not technically feasible to do a 10-week EIS over the Duwamish (River) with tribal fishing rights and everything else.”

A repair could have people back on the bridge in the middle of 2022. The rapid replacement promises 2023. Other replacement options won’t get people on the bridge until 2026.

For Mayor Durkan, her criteria is simple.

“How much is it going to cost, both to build it and to maintain it, how long will it last, and when can we get it open,” she said.

The mayor is also keenly aware of the economic impacts of this bridge closure, but said she is not going to rush her decision.

“I can’t give you a date,” she said about making her decision. “There’s some additional information that I’m hoping to get. I wanted to get this input.”

Former Mayor Nickels gave the current mayor a little pep talk as she left the meeting.

“We are counting on you,” Nickels said. “We are giving you our best thoughts and advice, and we stand ready to help. Whatever decision you make, we’ll help you try to make it happen in the best possible way for the community.”

As for funding, Mayor Durkan said she has been working with Washington’s Congressional team and lawmakers in Olympia. She believes the city is in good shape to get federal dollars for this project.

Though she did say those federal dollars could be in jeopardy if President Trump is re-elected. The city’s transportation dollars are caught up in Seattle being labeled an “anarchist jurisdiction,” which is one of the reasons why the city sued the administration last week.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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