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Mayor Durkan chooses to repair rather than replace West Seattle Bridge

West Seattle Bridge. (SDOT/flickr)

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan admits that she was leaning toward replacing the cracking West Seattle Bridge when it was closed in March. Eight months later, she has decided to go down the repair route.

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The mayor believes this is the fastest and best way to restore the lifeline to West Seattle. As the mayor has said previously, her decision would be based on three things: how much it was going to cost, both to build it and to maintain it, how long it would last, and when the route could be reopened.

Repairing the bridge could return service to West Seattle by the middle of 2022. A replacement could have taken until 2026. The mayor also expressed concern that the rapid replacement plan would not be able to get through the environmental permitting processes to deliver a promised opening in 2023.

The Seattle Department of Transportation believes it can get 15-40 years of life out of the bridge with this $47 million repair, but it isn’t totally sure. The bridge stabilization, while going well now, has not gone through a winter cycle. There is concern that the carbon fiber wrap and other stabilization work might not do well in colder weather.

If a repair not is feasible, the city would have to move to immediate replacement. That urgency is why a complete type, size, and location study of a replacement remains ongoing. There is hope that Seattle will get enough life out of this repair that it can build the next bridge with Sound Transit, marrying the light rail expansion and a new traffic bridge.

Durkan’s decision will come as welcome news for West Seattle business owner Dan Austin, who also represents the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re hurting on multiple fronts,” he told the mayor previously. “We need this bridge restored as soon as possible.”

Port of Seattle Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck also pushed for the repair option.

“What matters most, I think, to businesses and West Seattle residents and to the Sea Port is that we get capacity restored as soon as possible,” Steinbrueck said.

History of the West Seattle Bridge

Katie Garrow, who represents the MLK Labor Council, advocated replacement.

“We need to act like a growing city, which means to be responsible with our infrastructure decisions and not do the thing that’s necessarily the most politically expedient right now, but the right thing for our city for the long term,” Garrow told the mayor earlier this year.

The city continues to make traffic mitigation improvements to help people get in and out of West Seattle. Those will be vital with the bridge scheduled to be closed for another 18-plus months.

The city is still looking at ways to expand who can use the Lower Spokane Street Bridge during the high bridge closure. It is currently off-limits to anyone but emergency vehicles, transit, and community van pools between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. Photo enforcement is being installed, with $75 tickets for violating that restriction expected to start going out in January.

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