West Seattle Bridge Update, November 20; Weekly Budget Update; Funding for Bridge Maintenance; Coronavirus is Surging in Seattle – How to Stay Safe; Small Business Stabilization Fund Applications Due November 30th; “Shop Your Block” Supports Neighborhood Businesses

West Seattle Bridge Update, November 20

Mayor announces decision to pursue repair for West Seattle Bridge

Yesterday Mayor Durkan announced the City will proceed with a repair for the West Seattle Bridge. Her statement is linked here.

I released this statement:

I agree repairing the bridge is the best approach to restore safe access as quickly as possible. 

Since the closure of the West Seattle Bridge on March 23rd, I’ve heard every day from residents and businesses that are hurting, their lives and businesses disrupted. I’ve heard consistently from D1 constituents that restoring safe access as quickly as possible is the highest priority.  

As social distancing decreases, traffic and access issues will only increase.  Two years for a repair is shorter than other alternatives, even in the best scenarios.  Moreover, the Technical Advisory Panel’s confidence that the likelihood of a repair lasting 30-40 years is compelling; so are the conclusions of the Cost Benefit Analysis.  (See p. 59, of the Cost Benefit Analysis, or CBA.)

I appreciate the Mayor’s approach toward working with Sound Transit about potential joint use for a future bridge.

Proceeding with a study for a replacement as the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) monitors the effectiveness of stabilization measures after weather changes, preserves our options, should we need to change course. 

The Council quickly acted to provide $70 million in loan funding for the West Seattle Bridge and SDOT’s Reconnect West Seattle program, to stabilize the bridge and mitigate the impacts of bridge detour routes through communities that have experienced generations of under-investment.  We are poised to authorize $100 million in debt in the 2021 budget, with $50 million in bonds listed in the city’s Capital Improvement Program for 2022.

Business and workforce impacts resulting from the bridge closure are key concerns for West Seattle businesses, especially small businesses, but also for our regional economy due to reduced trips to and off the peninsula. Closure also impacts access to jobs and to supply chains.  I have come to understand that impacts to supply chains disproportionately impact smaller businesses.

The Mayor’s decision to choose the repair pathway for the West Seattle Bridge has been thoughtful, thorough, and inclusive of a diversity of perspectives as well as the input of SDOT’s independent Technical Advisory Panel.”

Proceeding with a repair

During the press conference announcing this decision, Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) Co-Chair Barbara Moffat noted that proceeding with a repair had the unanimous support of the TAP. She also indicated that the contracting method used could result in the work being done more quickly. The GCCM contracting method, for example, involves bringing the contractor on earlier in the process, during design, which can result in faster completion. SDOT indicated a repair completion during 2022, though when in 2022 hasn’t been established.

I support anything we can do to accelerate the timeline, and appreciate SDOT Director Zimbabwe’s  commitment to this.

SDOT expects to have a final repair cost estimate in early 2021; the figure used in the Cost/Benefit Analysis is $47 million, though SDOT cautions that is a preliminary figure. They will be studying how the bridge responds to the stabilization work expected to be completed before the end of the year, as well as colder weather. This will inform design work on the repair.

Here’s SDOT’s blog post about proceeding with a repair. It notes SDOT’s design consultant HNTB, will also move forward with a Type, Size & Location study that will lay the groundwork for future replacement, which will be needed eventually.

T5/Maritime economy

Another important element in this decision I’m glad the Mayor highlighted is the future of Terminal 5 and the maritime economy, which provides thousands of jobs, and helps maintain Seattle’s diverse economy. Terminal 5 is being modernized in two phases with the first being completed in the spring of 2021, and the other in 2023.

The Co-chairs of The Northwest Seaport Alliance, Port of Seattle Commission President Peter Steinbrueck and Port of Tacoma Commission President John McCarthy, issued a statement saying “the safe and rapid restoration of vehicle capacity and  traffic mobility to the high bridge is the highest priority for us.”

Tour of West Seattle Bridge

Last week I went on a tour of the West Seattle Bridge, and saw the interior of the bridge, and the post-tensioning work to stabilize the bridge.

Here’s the view on one of the work platforms suspended from the bridge deck:

Post-tensioning cables have now been tightened to 100% onto anchors:

Here’s the interior of a box girder:

Here’s equipment monitoring the cracks:

Post-tensioning cables within the box girder:

Reviewing a crack:

Weekly Budget Update

This week the Budget Committee voted on new amendments to the Chair’s proposed 2021 budget balancing package. The City Council will meet one more time as the Budget Committee on Monday morning to vote the package out of committee and will vote on the final budget at the Monday 2pm Full Council meeting.

Budget Chair Mosqueda developed a budget balancing package she released last week. Councilmembers were able to propose amendments to that balancing package; with additional funds available due to revised revenue forecast, a number of these items were able to be funded. So Chair Mosqueda developed a second package that was considered in the Budget Committee.

The resulting balancing package included two consent agendas (Group A and Group B on the agenda). Items not included in the consent agendas were considered individually, in Group C on the agenda. In addition, Councilmembers could identify items in the consent packages for individual votes (so the agenda as listed doesn’t fully reflect what was adopted).

New items I proposed that were included in the Group B consent agenda (starting at item #126 in the agenda linked above) and adopted by the committee include:

Funding for Bridge Maintenance

At the Budget Committee this week, I co-sponsored legislation along with prime sponsor Pedersen for a $20 vehicle license fee to address the recommendations of the City Auditor for maintenance of Seattle’s bridges. The Auditor found Seattle is “not spending enough on the upkeep and preservation of its bridges, and risks becoming out of compliance with federal regulations.”

The current Seattle vehicle license fee is $80, with $60 of that expiring at the end of this year. So the $20 fee would result in a total Seattle fee of $40 during 2021, half the size of the fee in 2020.

Councilmembers voted 5-4 to substitute a version that adopted the fee, but removed specifying funding for bridge maintenance; instead, a stakeholder process will develop a proposal for use of the funds. I voted “no” on the revised proposal because I am concerned that the City Council is handing the decision of whether we should provide funding necessary to partially implement Auditor recommendation to a citywide stakeholder group who might decide that the funds should be used for other purposes.  I believe that it is up to the Council and Mayor to make the decision of how to best implement recommendations of the City Auditor.  This creates, I feel, a troubling precedent that undermines SMC 3.40.050 which reads: Audit reports—Follow-up required – It is City policy to follow up on audit reports by the City Auditor.

Below is an article I wrote that appeared in Publicola in advance of the vote, with additional information.

Seattle is a city of hills and water; thus we are also a city of bridges. Our bridges are critical for mobility and both the local and regional economy.  Bridges are also critical transit infrastructure. That’s why I, along with Councilmembers Alex Pedersen and Andrew Lewis, have introduced legislation, along with a companion budget action for 2021, that would create a new $20 vehicle license fee (VLF) to pay for critical bridge maintenance throughout the city. The fee, if it’s approved by the Council this week, will be added to the existing $20 fee that funds additional Metro bus hours through the Seattle Transportation Benefit District.

The closure of the West Seattle Bridge on March 23 placed Seattle’s dependence on its bridges in stark relief. Every person and business in West Seattle, or anyone going to West Seattle, has felt the impact of this closure. Before it was closed, the West Seattle Bridge carried 17,000 daily transit riders on 13 routes making 900 daily trips. Two of these routes—the RapidRide C Line and Route 120—were among the top 10 routes for ridership in all of King County.

But the West Seattle Bridge is hardly the only vulnerable bridge in Seattle; for decades, funding for critical maintenance has fallen short, allowing the city’s bridges to fall into further and further disrepair. In September, the City Auditor released an audit, requested by Councilmember Pedersen, that focused on 77 bridges owned and operated by the Seattle Department of Transportation. That audit reported that bridge funding is well below the minimum annual $34 million level needed for the long-term health of this critical infrastructure.

The audit notes the overall condition of SDOT’s bridges has declined during the last decade and that Seattle is “not spending enough on the upkeep and preservation of its bridges, and risks becoming out of compliance with federal regulations.” This is, unfortunately, consistent with previous findings on the state of Seattle’s bridges, including an SDOT report from 2013 that found that 43 of the city’s bridges were “functionally obsolete,” and suggested that the city had a bridge maintenance backlog of nearly $2 billion.

We must address this underinvestment and protect our Frequent Transit Network, which includes all routes that operate with frequencies of 15 minutes or less for most of the day.

SDOT’s concern about a $47 million repair for the West Seattle Bridge was based largely on the fact that a repaired bridge would cost $500,000 a year to maintain. That’s twice the maintenance estimate for a new bridge, but SDOT’s experts estimated that the repairs would add another 30 to 40 years to the bridge’s useful life. When I learned this, it felt like a challenge to do my part to be a better steward of our public assets. I asked myself, “Why build a new bridge, at nearly ten times the cost of repairing it, just to avoid the higher costs of maintaining the bridge we have?”

I’m a passionate advocate for bus service funding.  I agree that we must increase direct investments in transit service  as well.  This is not an either or question, but a question of how.  In the near term, here is what we are doing and how we can do more:

  • Earlier this year, the Council increased the size of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed Proposition 1 sales tax measure from 0.1 percent to 0.15 percent and reduced the amount it included for maintenance and capital investments in order to focus funding on service hours.
  • Thanks to the passage of Proposition 1, which renewed the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, there is at least $23 million available from reserves from the last STBD to add more transit service to the system
  • The proposed VLF “increase” for bridge maintenance is $3.6 million for 2021, increasing to $7.2 million in 2022. I would support revisiting the potential for spending this additional $3.6 million on transit service in 2022.

COVID-19 has changed our transit landscape and will continue to do so throughout 2021. Metro, for example, recently reported a 60 percent drop in bus ridership in 2020. SDOT has proposed a 2021 plan for the new STBD that moves $8 million to budget reserves rather than adding more transit hours. I don’t want to allocate funds for service capacity in 2021 that we can’t spend.

Seattle isn’t alone in underfunding the maintenance of our bridges. Nationally, we would need to spend an additional $25 billion a year until 2032 to adequately fund our nation’s bridges. But we didn’t wait for the federal government to enact policies like a $15 minimum wage, or to fund legal assistance to help people avoid deportation.  Seattle led the way. While this proposal won’t fully fund  bridges, is a necessary down payment for our key bridges that we can, and should, make.

Coronavirus is Surging in Seattle – How to Stay Safe

We are at a precarious moment in the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 transmission and the number of people being infected are at all-time highs in King County and the outbreak is growing faster than ever. In the past week, hospitalizations have increased by 70%. Cases are on a trajectory to continue to increase and will be followed by even more hospitalizations and deaths.

It is more important than ever to limit our travel, avoid gatherings, and take extra precautions around our vulnerable friends, family and neighbors – especially those who are elderly or have underlying health conditions.

With an appeal to act now, before our hospitals are overwhelmed, 500 nurses signed a letter to urge King County residents:

“Please, for us, for you and your families, and for our whole community…

  • Wear a mask whenever you’re in public, particularly indoors.
  • Stay at least 6 feet from others outside your household.
  • Avoid gatherings, especially inside
  • Reduce travel and other activities away from home.
  • Get tested right away if you have COVID-19 symptoms or were in close contact with someone who is infected.”

Getting our outbreak under control can seem daunting. But as the nurses remind us: “We’ve flattened the curve before, and we can do it again.”

Free COVID tests are available at drive-through and walk-up sites all over King County.

New statewide restrictions are in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

  • Indoor social gatherings with people who do not live with you are prohibited, unless you quarantine for 14 days prior OR quarantine for 7 days and receive a negative COVID test result.
  • Outdoor gatherings are limited to no more than 5 people who do not live with you.
  • More information about temporary restrictions for restaurants, stores, religious services, and other activities is on the Current COVID-19 Guidance

We know the holiday season this year will look different. Check out these ideas for safer gatherings, including virtual options and a checklist to help plan a safer outdoor gathering.

Gathering with people we don’t live with—even close friends and family—may spread COVID-19. But if you are considering gathering, here is a helpful conversation guide to have with family or friends:

Small Business Stabilization Fund Applications Due November 30th

Applications are due on November 30th for the City of Seattle’s new $4 million round of small business stabilization fund (SBSF) grants.  OED will award $10,000 grants to small businesses with 25 or fewer employees.  For more information on all eligibility requirements, visit OED’s website.

To request in-language assistance or application assistance generally, a business owner can email oed@seattle.gov or call 206-684-8090 and leave a voice mail with the following information:

  • Your name
  • Phone number
  • The language you need in English
  • What support you need

“Shop Your Block” Supports Neighborhood Businesses

Today, the City of Seattle launched the new Shop Your Block retail map, part of a larger public campaign to  support small businesses throughout the holiday season.  Shop Your Block connects consumers to local small retail businesses throughout Seattle using the new retail map and online neighborhood marketplaces. Shop Your Block celebrates Seattle’s unique character and encourages the public to support local retailers in their neighborhood —in person or online— this holiday shopping season.

Also check out West Seattle’s own online marketplace: https://westseattlemarket.com/.

Interested in adding your business to the Shop Your Block retail map?  Click here for instructions.  Have questions?  Contact Shop Your Block at ShopYourBlock@seattle.gov or call (206) 684-8090.

Shop Early. Shop Local. Shop Safe. Shop Your Block.

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