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Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn wants to spend $500,000 over two years to study a new bridge for transit, bicycles and pedestrians over the Lake Washington Ship Canal near Fremont.

The City Council turned down a similar request last fall.

McGinn said he is bringing the proposal back because of a new federal law that offers grants for local transit lines, and the city would better compete for money for the bridge if the study is conducted soon.

The study would include environmental review and analysis of locations, but not structural engineering.

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A transit bridge might keep future streetcars, electric buses or light rail from being stuck on the Ballard or Fremont bridges, or avoid the need to stop vehicle traffic while a train passes through.

McGinn also plans to seek money this spring for transit planning in the Eastlake corridor, from the University District over the University Bridge, continuing toward a potential connection with the existing South Lake Union streetcar. The council last fall postponed a
$1 million study of that area.

Portland’s Tri-Met is building a $135 million, cable-stayed bridge over the Willamette River for rail transit, plus a pair of 14-foot-wide bicycle lanes.

McGinn’s move could help rally his green, pro-transit base for his re-election bid this year in a crowded primary field that includes eight candidates so far.

“Fremont is very, very busy as a crossing, and it would be great to give people another place where they can cross,” said Craig Benjamin, Cascade Bicycle Club policy director. Bikes and pedestrians vie for narrow space on the old Fremont Bridge, he said.

But City Council President Sally Clark said, “There are a lot of other things higher on the list — Lake City, Rainier. There are a lot of unfinished promises.”

Those two neighborhoods deserve sidewalks and bus-lane improvements first, she said.

On the other hand, the council last fall approved
$4 million, supplemented by $4.7 million in federal and South Transit aid, to plan streetcar or electric-trolley bus routes for North Capitol Hill, Ballard, downtown and Madison Street.

Of that amount, $2.8 million would go toward planning a Ballard-Fremont-downtown route.

If that study determines buses on existing roads are the best choice for the route, the city wouldn’t need the additional $500,000 to study a new bridge, said Councilmember Tim Burgess, who is running for mayor.

He also pointed out that the city has a $1 billion backlog in other street and bridge improvements.

Another mayoral candidate, real-estate broker Charlie Staadecker, said the money McGinn is seeking would be better spent to illuminate crosswalks and fill potholes.

The Ship Canal, completed in 1917, is crossed by two highway bridges, four low-rise street drawbridges, and a railroad drawbridge.

McGinn argues that a new transit bridge would take pressure off the existing crossings. “Everybody who goes north-south knows that if one bridge is blocked, every bridge goes bad,” he said.

The city hasn’t identified sites for a bridge, or whether it would be fixed or use a drawspan.

However, the 2012 Transit Master Plan developed by a city-appointed advisory committee shows a possible fixed bridge crossing the canal at Seattle Pacific University.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or Twitter @mikelindblom

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