Finding the way to West Seattle
By Jean Godden
(Note: By now Mayor Durkan may have announced an option for replacement of the West Seattle Bridge. But, in case the controversy still rages, I thought I ought to come clean with a story -- full disclosure -- involving my own family.)
My brother and I have a long-standing sibling rivalry. He teases me when some journalist goes off to jail for refusing to turn over confidential notes. Conversely when a bridge falls down (his territory), I let him know.
Although we banter a lot, I do respect my only sibling's professional credentials. Dr. Harry Hecht has a doctorate in civil engineering and he's been involved in important transportation projects such as construction of the Tijuana Trolley in San Diego and negotiating free bus service in Emeryville Ca. Not bad for a kid who never learned to spell properly (too many schools when growing up).
The point of introducing Harry is that, quite naturally, I contacted him about the closure of the failing West Seattle Bridge last March. Since then, we've corresponded back and forth about the bridge. Most recently I alerted him that SDOT had released the long-awaited cost-benefit analysis on the options for replacement. It's a super-dense 89-page report with an executive summary. It has been called "the worst executive summary ever."
I was able to refer Harry to the somewhat more readable guide, made available on SCC Insight.com by blogger Kevin Schofield. The guide detailed the six options and how each would perform against a number of goals; it analyzed the cost benefits of each proposal. The options varied widely from an immersed tube tunnel (most expensive proposal) to an accelerated bridge replacement and to repairing the bridge with "direct strengthening."
After considering the options, Harry responded by email from his vacation home in Hawaii. (He's there, awaiting resumption of work on California's stalled high-speed rail system.) Here is what he concluded after reading the more readable guide:
"The solution appears to be simple. Solutions that are many years out are not acceptable due to the severe impact on the public. It appears that alternative number two (repairing the bridge with direct strengthening) can be done quickly and is possibly fundable. It makes the most sense.
"I am unsure that (a repaired bridge's) life is much different from other alternatives since all the life durations of the bridge are big guesses at best. It (a strengthen bridge) could be done quickly using a time bonus and open to traffic within six months. No need to worry about light rail at this time; light rail should look at its own issues and alternatives. Anyway that is my take on the issue."
As part of his response, Harry referred to one of the big earthquakes in California where multiple bridges went down. At the time, he was working with the California highway department. He added, "We used time bonuses which cut the construction time significantly, enabling the opening of bridges in six months or less."
That was Dr. Harry's quick response to my query about which option he'd choose. It's an educated guess, of course, but one from an educated guy. Heck, they consulted him when they wanted to know why the Big Dig in Boston had cost so much. (He jokes that he got his doctorate later in life so that his grandsons could call him "doc" rather than "gramps.")
Myself I wouldn't necessarily rely on an overnight response from my slightly younger brother who spends his downtime scuba diving, kayaking and playing tennis. But then I'll likely hear from him soon about how many journalists have lost their jobs this year. It's part of our life-long rivalry; mom always loved him best.