Congresswoman Jayapal "pretty confident" funding for West Seattle Bridge will come through
The August meeting of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition on Thursday, Aug. 27 featured guests from the bridge activist site West Seattle Bridge Now, Heather Marx with SDOT, Port of Seattle's Peter Steinbrueck and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. It was Jayapal who had the best news.
She spoke about potential funding sources that could provide some backing for whatever is decided by SDOT in the Repair/Replace scenario they say will be resolved in October. Jayapal referenced House Resolution 2 also known as the Moving Forward Act which includes $28 billion for bridges. The senate has not taken that bill up she said. But she went on to say that Seattle should be eligible for a what is known as a BRIC (Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities) Grant. A new FEMA pre-disaster hazard mitigation program that replaces the existing Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) program. The congresswoman said she and her staff are, "in touch with the Federal Highway Administration and the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee to make sure that the city is well positioned to apply for a grant. Once the need is determined. Once the exact scope of the project is determined, and that's really what we're waiting on."
For fiscal year 2020 there is $446.4 million available in a national competition for mitigation projects that can be applied to Management Costs, and the Mitigation Projects. Given the amount of money and the fact that it will be distributed to multiple applicants these funds might be useful should the repair option be chosen to offset some early costs.
Marx, Seattle Department of Transportation Director of Downtown Mobility for SDOT, explained that right now expenses are being met through a $70 million intra-fund loan "which will cover our West Seattle Bridge program expenses for this year, as well as the first quarter of 2021. By the beginning of 2021, we're going to have a better idea of whether we're repairing or replacing, and so we'll know what additional money we need to seek from the city as well as what additional money we'll have to seek from other sources," said Marx.
Two other grant programs potentially available for the bridge are "The USDOT, Infra Grant program. It is $900 million a year in discretionary grant funding and the selection criteria is sort of focused on projects in which the local sponsor is significantly invested, (which we obviously would be) and positioned to proceed rapidly to construction. The timeline is around January 15th of the year and closes January 25th of that same year, so we assume that that would mean our application would be due in January, so we need to get our work done," said Jayapal. "You have to be able to begin construction 18 months from the obligation of funds. So grants are typically announced in July. The other pot of money that we've identified is the USDOT build grant program. This is a billion dollars a year discretionary grant program. And funds are again awarded on a competitive basis for surface transportation infrastructure projects that have a significant local or regional impact. And so, again, that is that feels like a very good fit and the funds can be used for planning, preparation or design of eligible projects. The city would have to provide 20% of the project cost and the timeline for that is a little bit later. It typically opens in February and closes in May and then grants wouldn't be announced until September.
The House and Senate rules have banned what we call earmarks since 2011 anf that is defined as any congressionally directed spending tax benefit tariff benefit that would benefit an entity or a specific state locality or Congressional District. So that means we can't set aside federal funds for any specific project through the congressional appropriations process, which is why we're looking at these.
Just to finish up the challenge at the federal level, of course, is clear. This president talks about wanting to get to work, rebuilding the country's infrastructure, but he has done absolutely nothing on that. The Senate has refused to take up HR 2. They haven't passed any infrastructure package at all, so a lot is going to hinge on what happens. In November, and obviously on a different note, we're all working very hard to make sure that we have an administration that's actually responsive and responsible and actually believes in the constitution.
Marx, speaking prior to the Congresswoman said, "We actually have a list of 42 different funding options, including federal partners are we've spoken with our local FHW, a division FHW a stands for Federal Highway Administration. For those who don't work in transportation professionally as well as Build America. It's called a TIFI Loan, which is a low interest loan that transportation agencies can get for infrastructure. We are speaking of course, with the Washington state delegation regularly as well as partnering with WSDOT."
We've been successful in getting some small grants from PSRC. We are in close coordination with the Port of Seattle and Northwest Seaport Alliancem Sound Transit in case it does make sense to combine our two bridge efforts as well as King County Metro. We are right now conducting a search for a consultant who will perform a traffic and revenue study.
There's an investment grade study that may suggest tolling. Tolling would be another revenue source for us to pay back either the low interest loan or bonds that we would sell to to fund the work that we need to do next."
Marx explained that SDOT is looking into, "Surface transportation federal grants like build infra and BRIC state grants like the regional mobility grant, transportation improvement board, federal transportation package opportunities. Actually, we're looking on both the appropriations and authorizing side, and then there are city resources like commercial parking taxes, full revenues new or future funding initiatives. Obviously the commercial parking taxes are not great sources right now, but typically they are. They are good sources of revenue for the city. We also are looking toward partnerships with external agencies like King County in the port."
Marx also provided a brief update on SDOT's Reconnect West Seattle initiative noting that "We are going to create specific neighborhood traffic mitigation plans for the four communities that are most acutely impacted by increased traffic from detour routes. We've also created some network connectivity plans that develop key connections for freight and bicycles." That plan will be revealed next week in the meeting with the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force.
In the recently completed survey of area residents they got more than 15,000 responses from across the area and, "We found that people are most concerned about congestion, pedestrian safety, speeding, environmental impacts and pollution."
Kevin Broveleit of West Seattle Bridge Now (and West Seattle Realty) spoke to the meeting. The group now has 4000 followers. He and many of those that are part of that group believe that repairing the bridge as soon as possible is the best solution. He and group member Phil Tavel introduced Adam Ludwig, an engineer who also believes the bridge can be easily and quickly repaired, a view not yet shared by SDOT who are still doing stabilization work. Ludwig said, "I contacted one of the original bridge engineers who I actually used to work with. And he provided me with a set of bridge drawings and I did my own analysis to see what could be the issue. I knew that if the deficiencies at those crack locations were related to shear, that those were very serious deficiencies. But my suspicion early on wasn't that they were not, they were flexural...I did my own analysis. And I found that they in fact are shear related or at least shear plays a major role in their growth. And the issue is that the way that the box girder was reinforced is deficient so, but complicating matters is that the bridge wasn't built the way that the drawings prescribed it to be built. The contractor made substitutions, and I was informed about some of those based on this engineers experience and his his recollections. But we we don't know exactly what's there because we don't have the shop drawings, so we're going with assumptions. And when I looked at these original vertical tendon bars here, I found them to be woefully deficient.
"We talk about demand to capacity ratios. If the demand is more than the capacity of capacity of the thing to support the demands and that ratio is more than one. More than one is bad. Well, those bars had deficiency of about 1.7, which is really bad. But when I applied the reinforcing as recollected by this engineer, the deficiency was closer to 1.1 or 1.2. Much more repairable, and so I had some high hopes that were then corroborated by the experts, the city's consultants, and that TAP committee. The technical advisory panel, which is a who's who of bridge engineering experts. The repairs are are quite clearly going to be a fraction of the cost of bridge replacement, and they can be expedited. They could be done in perhaps a year or even less. And why they haven't been done so far is a mystery to me.
But it's one of the repair options and this is. So actually work related to this repair option is underway. So right now these phase one stabilization tendons that are designed to to add pre compression to the bottom flange. Past this point of weakness. They're in process and, adding to that, if they drape tendons from end to end, these will provide lift and additional pre compression that will will solve the problem. And I mean the the cost of this has to be pennies to the dollar to the cost of bridge replacement and it seems like such a no brainer that we aren't pursuing this option."
President of the Seattle Port Commission Peter Steinbrueck also spoke to the group and essentially demanded a forensic engineering study to determine what caused the bridge to fail.
"The actual causes of the bridge structural failure have not been fully identified and vetted through a a third party. A peer review of structural engineers and I for one would like to know exactly what the causes of the structural failure are. I've heard many things I've talked with the mayor about. I've talked with technical staff. They say it's everything. Well, that's not good enough if we're going to make repairs or consider replacement.
We really need to know was it design failure, underestimate of the loads, excessive loads, settlement of the foundation settlements, any number of possible things, heavy loads that have been occurring there, frequency etc. Wind loads, earthquake, even earthquake?
So let let's get a clear, agreed to understanding there about what the actual causes are before we consider a major undertaking of specific repairs or replacement. I'm also going to say it's really premature to be talking about this or that placement alternative."
He went to to say, " This is at the heart of our international gateway. We've just entered into a 1/2 billion dollar investment to modernize Terminal 5. With a 30 year contract representing 6000 Longshore jobs and worker jobs."
He said we have, "An incredible opportunity, not just for Seattle, but the state of Washington and it's put at risk. By what has happened here, for whatever reasons exist, it is put at grave risk. I wrote an article recently in the Seattle times, I'm sure some of you have seen it regarding the enormity of this crisis here and its regional and statewide importance. It, in fact is just that. To all of us, which is why I called for a regional approach to considering the approach could, considering the urgency of this and the need to work together in partnership with all levels, all agencies, all levels of government.
We have to do that and I'm 100% committed as the president of Port of Seattle and the Co chair of the Great Northwest Seaport Alliance, along with a John McCarthy from Tacoma. So I just want to put that out there. We're going to work closely. We are every day and every week. But I want this to be a pragmatic approach that is sensible not dreaming."
Why they havent done anything since they found the crack in 2013? If other engineers believe it can be quickly fixed then I dont know wht the City doesnt believe that. Why the bridge closed just right after the Covid 19 and they dont want to fix it during the closure? Isnt it the best time to fix it with no cars? Everything doesnt make sense whatever they say. It just doesnt make sense.