The Magnolia Bridge is part of a crucial transportation system serving Magnolia, Interbay and the Fisherman’s Terminal industrial area. The city should find a way to replace it.
Seattle must find a way to replace the Magnolia Bridge, a critical part of the city’s transportation system.
The transportation department is now studying alternatives to rebuilding, which it will present to Mayor Jenny Durkan and the City Council this fall.
But abandoning this infrastructure is unacceptable, especially after spending millions on engineering and environmental work for what’s long been considered an essential project.
Seattle has known for decades that it must replace the bridge, damaged in 1997 mudslides and the 2001 Nisqually earthquake.
Taxpayers already spent more than $9 million studying options and getting 30 percent done with the replacement bridge’s design. Another $19 million was spent rebuilding the bridge’s east end in 2002.
From 2002 to 2006, some 50 public meetings on the bridge were held, plus consultations with regulatory agencies and businesses. Then an environmental assessment of the project was completed in 2015.
All that may be wasted.
That would set a terrible precedent in a city with more than 100 bridges, many of which are more than a century old and needing to be rebuilt in the not-too-distant future. Will Seattle go through motions of replacing them, only to give up in the end, trashing pricey consultant studies and thousands of hours spent on public meetings and staff time?
This is another sign of how desperately the city needs fiscal discipline and better funding of transportation.
Instead of saving up to replace failing infrastructure, Seattle spends on things that are less critical. Then it pleads poverty when the bill for important work arrives.
When you know the roof will fail in a few years, you start saving for its replacement. With the Magnolia Bridge, Seattle procrastinated. Now it’s writing studies to justify abandoning the roof and getting by with a blue tarp.
There is no cheap fix. A rough estimate for the bridge replacement is $350 million to $400 million. But the alternatives, including smaller overpasses elsewhere that would create less direct routes, would cost $216 million to $250 million.
The cost difference should not be insurmountable for a city that once proposed a $60 million pedestrian overpass at Northgate and recently built $12 million-per-mile bike lanes downtown. On a cost-per-person carried basis, the Magnolia Bridge is a relative bargain.
Seattle should explore financing options and ways to build the replacement bridge for less. No decision should be made to abandon the project before there’s clarity about President Donald Trump’s infrastructure spending plan, which is now expected in 2019.
In assessing alternatives, Seattle must weigh the number of people using the bridge, not just the number of vehicles, especially since three of Magnolia’s four bus routes use this bridge. It should also factor in the cost of travel time lost to congestion and less functional alternatives.
The Magnolia Bridge is one of only three bridge corridors, a fragile stool, providing street access to Magnolia, Interbay and the Fisherman’s Terminal industrial area. Any review of alternatives should consider these three corridors as a codependent system.
This is about more than serving the more than 20,000 residents of Magnolia.
Efficient access is needed for significant public facilities, including subsidized housing complexes, Seattle’s largest park, two public schools and a third opening in 2019 near the Magnolia Bridge. Plus there’s a regional wastewater treatment facility using trucks to haul sludge.
Fragility of this network was demonstrated during past closures of the Magnolia Bridge. They caused “extreme congestion,” according to a city study, affecting not just Magnolia but also the 15th Avenue West corridor.
That was before the city allowed thousands of new housing units to be constructed in Ballard, Interbay and Queen Anne.
Had the city collected transportation impact fees from those developments, as other regional cities do to help infrastructure keep pace with growth, funding would be less of a crisis for the city’s worn and crowded roadways.
Why not use the Magnolia Bridge funding shortfall as the impetus to finally collect such fees, and have those who profit the most from growth pay a larger share?
The rebuilt bridge could then stand as a monument to real progressive leadership.