Choices down to two for the West Seattle Bridge; 'Rapid Replacement' or repair; Tunnel is rejected
In a Community Town Hall meeting held via Zoom on Monday night Mayor Jenny Durkan clarified that the options for the West Seattle Bridge are down to two. It will be either the so-called "Rapid Replacement" option brought in by engineering firm HNTB or a continuation of the repair program done thus far. The Immersed Tube Tunnel option was clearly rejected by the Mayor due to cost and technical complexity.
The replacement option would presumably get traffic back on the bridge by 2023 while the repair would hopefully accomplish the same at a lower initial cost by 2022.
A decision could come this week.
It's possible that should the Mayor choose the replacement option, all the alternatives considered would go through a Type, Size and Location study.
Hosted by Dept. of Neighborhoods Andres Mantilla, more than 300 people joined the town hall online.
Durkan said, ’We need as much input as possible," and in her dialog with people in the neighborhoods most affected she continued, "I hear a sense of urgency." The decision will come down to a preferred alternative but the Mayor said in the next few weeks, "Were going to have very clear direction."
She noted that "This closure has disproportiionaly affected communities of color around the Duwamish Valley, " and. "it’s critical that we address the impacts."
Community Task Force Co-chairs Greg Nickels and Paulina Lopez also took part.
Sam Zimbabwe SDOT Director and a West Seattle resident went through a review of the history of the cracks and closure and stabilization work done thus far. Interestingly he noted that each post-tensioning cable holds 280,000 pounds of tension.
Zimbabwe mentioned the on going engagement SDOT and others from the city are doing in the community.
Low bridge access was discussed as was the coming automated enforcement.
Starting early December, automated enforcement will now allow SDOT to optimize Low Bridge usage because they can tailor access for different groups of users at different times or on different days of the week.
Automated enforcement on the Low Bridge allows SDOT and SPD to better enforce the Low Bridge access policy by recognizing in real-time authorized users like transit vehicles, school buses, freight vehicles, emergency response vehicles, and potentially a small number of additional authorized users, to be identified through the Low Bridge Access Subcommittee. Read more about automated enforcement in this blog.
What comes next?
Zimbabwe said, that "No matter what path we take there’s a lot of work left to do," and explained that "Cold weather will prove a test for the repairs made thus far."
If the Mayor chooses the Repair Pathway:
Zimbabwe said, "We will still have an older bridge with maintenance issues," and "Out to about 2100 it will cost “close to a billion”. He added that,"This path has the potential for a future shut down." Though with a 15 to 40 year future, if at some point a replacement were made that's the only reason. It's been confirmed by other engineers that as the bridge ages, with good maintenance it would just stay in service. It won't fail without some external cause.
Zimbabwe took a moment to describe his "favorite" piece of gear from SDOT for maintenance and inspections after repair .. It's called the U-Bit SDOT truck that has an arm that extends over around and under the bridge deck to permit inspection.
If the Rapid Replacement Pathway is chosen by the Mayor
Zimbabwe noted that the Fremont Bridge in Portland Oregon was done in the same way, and as previously explained, was used to replace the bridge (though far smaller) at Lake Champlain in 2011.
He noted that the 2023 return to service timeline was optimistic and highly contingent on funding and permitting. Demoltion could take place while they build the new parts of the bridge.
The Mayor addressed funding for the work ahead.
"The city has already committed up to $150,000,000 as part of our budget, that comes from the anticipation of long-term bond commitments that we would have to make as a city. We see the need for partnership across all levels of gov'ernment, with Washington state, with the Port of Seattle. We've already received grants through the Puget Sound Regional Council and other stakeholders who recognize the importance of this. We also recognize the need to seek federal funding and financing, potentially both discretionary grants and formula resources and then figuring out what, if any, additional local contributions we would make and one of the ways to do that is to look at the Traffic and Revenue study and see if tolling is part of the idea or determine that it's not a good idea and doesn't merit further consideration."
A variety of questions arose in the Question and Answer period of the Town Hall.
Pete Spalding asked, "Why is more attention not being paid to the neighborhoods of North Delridge and Delridge?
Zimbabwe said, "We have the construction right now going on up the Rapidride H line all along Delridge and we know that that has an impact on communities as well. We when we planned that construction before the start of the bridge crisis we.... tried to consider it and and divide that work into smaller pieces and try to minimize the impact over time. We're also working to aggressively start rapid ride service and make sure that we can provide improved transit connections there, which will be part of the long term future of West Seattle, in terms of mobility. So that I know that that work has had an ongoing impact on communities we've been making great progress over the course of this year and will look to minimize the duration of that work without adding to the burden that those communities are facing. Certainly as part of the larger reconnect West Seattle program. There are, there are ideas and ways to help improve connections in the North Delridge part of the community as well."
Questions came up about the Emergency Closure declaration and whether that negatively impacted seeking federal funding.
"The answer to that is no. In fact it unlocks some possibilities for us," the Mayor said, "And there was no significant federal or state funding that was available at that time." She continued, "I have been meeting pretty regularly and talking to the heads of our Congressional delegation, both senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, Pramilla Jayapal as well. I talked to her this weekend. In fact, I've talked to the governor repeatedly about this project and last week I was able to participate in a group of mayors, a small group of mayors talking to the head, the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Housing, and so we are actively making sure that when there is a federal funding available that we will be hopefully towards the front of the line for it."
Questions were asked about Sound Transit and the potential for integrating light rail planning into what the city is working on regarding the bridge.
"Sound Transit is in the midst of an environmental process on the whole of the West. Seattle to Ballard. Link extension. That work has continued. And we've been participating with them through that work. The whole of the South Sound Transit program, I think, is a little bit uncertain at this point, given the revenue impacts that they've seen from the COVID-19 crisis they will be engaging with their board in a process of looking at the whole of the capital program. I think they are starting ... really in earnest next summer to determine if there's any large scale timing impacts to the West Seattle connections." She continued, " In all of these projects, I do think as Sam said, is that you know, one of the questions I asked at the very outset of this was, is there a way to consolidate whatever we do with with Sound Transit efforts? Because we should be able to do that. Unfortunately, in both the repair and replace mechanism this bridge. Because Sound Transit has to enter and exit the bridge in a different way than this traffic pattern, regardless of what alignment it is, it makes it very unlikely that we can accommodate." The Mayor explained, "I think our role with them right now on the bridge has been to understand whether there are different opportunities now presented with the bridge being closed and potentially replaced. I would say in a in a repair scenario there's there's not a facility connection possible you know having a shared facility in a replacement scenario, there are some challenges, but that's where we would need to engage and discuss further with Sound Transit on a technical and timing basis."
People were curious about speed limits on West Marginal Way and Highland Park Way SW.
Zimbabwe answered and said, "We have been taking making an effort to reduce speed limits, posted speed limits around the city as part of our Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries across the city and and what we found is that when we even take the step of reducing speed limits and increasing the number of speed limit signs that we have, we see crashes go down and we see those serious injuries and fatalities go down as well.
We also know that crashes, in addition to that human costs of life and limb also have a substantial cost in terms of the time delay in travel and so in this situation where we have even fewer options as the mayor just said. If we have a serious crash on one of those main arterials, we could further impact people's ability to get around. And we actually had a very serious collision on on West Marginal way a few weeks ago, and that shut down the whole street for hours for the investigation and for the the lifesaving efforts and all of that, and so the idea is that if we if everybody just goes a little bit slower, everybody will get to where they need to go more safely, more reliably over time."
The question came up regarding the $916 million cost for maintenance of the life of a repaired bridge.
"Some of those larger numbers come out of our cost benefit analysis," said Zimbabwe," which is some that we worked on as we were taking these stabilization steps to help inform the repair replace decision.
The cost benefit analysis tried to take all of the potential factors and provide apples to apples comparison of all the different pathways. And so we considered the upfront capital costs, the ongoing maintenance and operation costs of the structure of the eventual replacement cost. So if we know that in the event of a repaired bridge eventually, that bridge would need to be replaced, and then also looked at the point in time that we ended the cost benefit analysis looking out to the year 2100, which still feels like a very long time.
From my perspective, how much remaining value would be left in the bridge at the end of that period? So in the repair pathway we would eventually need to replace the bridge at the point of 2100. We would expect that there would still be some time left of some value and time left in that bridge versus a replacement structure that we replaced in the near term would be coming to the end of its useful life around 2100, so that's 916 million dollar figure that I cited is once you factor in all of those different factors as part of that cost benefit analysis and really try to create some apples to apples comparison and what emerged from that was that the repair and a replacement of the superstructure only just the parts above the columns of the bridge, which is where we've seen the structural problems.
Those were the two most promising alternatives from a cost benefit analysis and we're roughly comparable, and so it's it's a question of some of the other inputs and the risks and the where we see the opportunities as well. The Mayor added, "There were other alternatives that were examined. A tunnel in a full replacement. The tunnel was not viable for a number of reasons. Both engineering, fiscal and and other things, and the full replacement just took way too long and cost too much. We thought to really justify that expenditure, so we were able to eliminate those options. Working with the both the technical experts in our task force and so really the two options we're looking at still is that rapid replacement where we just replace that superstructure in the middle or we repair things."
What about increasing the frequency of the Water Taxi runs?
"That's another place where we've been in discussions with King County Metro and figuring out ways to make sure we have service that supports the level of demand that will we will see going forward," the Mayor said.
What are the criteria for commercial vehicles to access the lower bridge and how do commercial vehicles apply for that parameter permission?
Zimbabwe explained, " So right now it is vehicles that are, I believe it is 10,000 Pounds gross vehicle weight is the threshold for what is considered to be a freight vehicle. Commercial vehicles that are are moving goods or providing services. We've had some limited exemptions to that for as I mentioned, Harbor Island workers. And then we've worked with business organizations in West Seattle to provide some business passes that can be be used. Those are the criteria now and as we move into a photo enforcement environment will have a little bit more flexibility rather than needing to have a pass based system. We can provide some different alternative ways to manage the addition of the slight additional capacity that we have right now on the bridge so the that information should be available on our website. We are also happy to follow up with additional specifics about exactly what's allowed right now."
What about future federal funding?
Mayor Durkan said, "We were really hopeful at the beginning this summer that the second covid relief package would have a big infrastructure component and we pushed hard for that with our delegation. They pushed for that and Congress originally indicated they were going to do that and then bogged down.
We now believe that Congress will not take up infrastructure bills until mid time next year. So to get in that kind of large mega project where you're called out or where additional funding is going puts us on a different path than we had hoped. There's a range of other grants, and it it is. Sam will tell you they're having a bridge that's out is easier to get funding for than one that is just needing upgrade. We're unfortunate in some regards because an important bridge in Kentucky just went out and Mitch McConnell is one of the people who will decide what goes in the Senate package. But there there are different buckets for different types of funding at different stages, but we will push for assistance from the federal government regardless the bigger number. To be honest, the replacement mode is going to be harder to put together just because there's a lot of pent up demand for infrastructure dollars across the country.
What is the City's plan to help address the economic impacts to business and home owners in West Seattle?
The Mayor said, "I met earlier today with our small Business Advisory Council and the governor. The limitations the governor announced today are just devastating for so many small businesses and particularly restaurants. And I know that businesses in West Seattle had already had a struggle because before a number of people would come to West Seattle to eat. to shop and now it makes it much more difficult. So we are working with the governor's office to see if we can get additional state funding to support and help.
Are those the businesses that are most impacted and the city is looking at other programs to see if we can also enhance both things like rent relief for workers or subsidies for the business small businesses?
So we hope to have more to announce on that. And obviously for those areas that are more greatly impacted which West Seattle in South Park in Georgetown have been.We will be looking to see how we can help businesses. We know that this has just been to have this triple blow to those businesses has been really, really difficult and the city wants to do all it can. Know that you've got great advocates in both your two citywide city councilmembers, Mosqueda and Lorena Gonzales live in West Seattle, and Lisa Herbold, who are very acutely aware of the impact this has had so, know that all of city government is trying to look for ways to mitigate the impacts on the residents and the businesses."
As I understand in discussions with engineers a rigid maitenance schedule was a requirement when the bridge was complete which were not adhered to and in fact major concerns of the bridge's stability were known five years ago and nothing was done, nothing was done. except to monitor. The key to any structure for a long life is maitenance, maitenance, and more maitenance. as such what guarantee is there that will be the case in either repair or replacement of the bridge, i suspect known just like all of Seattle bridges. Fix the existing bridge, take care of it and you will be surprised how long it will last, certainly longer then any engineer will admit to.