My service in the state Legislature was bookended by the construction of the West Seattle and First Avenue South bridges. One of my very first legislative successes was securing the passage of a local option tax in Seattle to help fund the former, and one of my last was to get a 5 cent increase in the state gas tax to fund the latter.
I am appalled at the seeming “ho-hum” attitude exhibited by government officials at all levels regarding a transportation facility vital to those of us in West Seattle. Where is the leadership on this important transportation issue?
Seattle’s Department of Transportation appears to be investigating itself without much independent City Council oversight. An independent investigation of why the bridge failed is critical if for nothing else than to avoid repeating mistakes that led us to this point. When cracks first appeared in 2013, why didn’t SDOT take immediate action to discern why they appeared and to take steps to stop them? What caused the cracks? If it was oversized buses, why did SDOT allow Metro to operate those on the bridge? Questions abound. I simply do not trust SDOT to conduct the type of legitimate independent investigation we need.
Repair or replacement will not be cheap. In 1979, federal money for the bridge was provided by U.S. Sen. Warren Magnuson and Secretary of Transportation Brock Adams when the then-West Seattle Bridge was struck by an errant vessel in the Duwamish River. State funds were assured by the local option tax authority. Councilmember Jeanette Williams (after whom the present Bridge is named), aided by her able staffer Tom Rasmussen, later a City Council member, was instrumental in pulling all the efforts together, which resulted in the bridge opening in 1984.
Today, in this emergency, no one from the city is identifying where the dollars are going to come for bridge repair or replacement. And it’s crickets from any 34th District legislators on state dollars, and from our U.S. senators or 7th Congressional District representative as to federal funds. The contrast with the work done back in 1978-79 is pretty glaring.
A few online sessions to mollify West Seattle commuters and a 40-member citizens committee in which everyone is involved and no one is ultimately responsible for learning why the bridge failed or what we are going to do to fix it will not suffice. We elect mayors, council members, legislators, members of Congress and U.S. senators to solve problems. So, solve this one.
C’mon people. This is an emergency. Before it shut down, 107,000 drivers and 25,000 transit riders a day relied on that corridor. Elected officials need to come together on a funding package now. Folks in West Seattle are having their lives disrupted, and it will get worse once we emerge from the pandemic. In 1978, because of the West Seattle Bridge problems, people over here talked about seceding from the city to get needed services. Is that what it’s going to take to stop government at all levels from just plodding along?