Bridges represent the most vulnerable links in Seattle’s transportation grid. When there’s a problem getting across the city’s waterways, ravines and roadways, traffic becomes unbearable. Just ask anyone from West Seattle.
Yet, despite leaders’ repeated promises to fully fund bridge repair and maintenance, City Hall has a history of kicking the can down the road, often in favor of more visible and politically popular street projects.
The Seattle City Council ought to end this practice, and get to work on appropriately funding vital infrastructure once and for all.
Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed budget includes about $40 million for ongoing West Seattle Bridge repair. The rest of her budget includes $11.5 million for routine bridge maintenance.
That is above the 14-year annual average of $6.6 million, but far less than what’s needed.
A city auditor report last year — initiated after the West Seattle Bridge closure all but stranded 80,000 people on the peninsula — showed that Seattle needs to spend an average of at least $34 million, and up to $102 million per year, to keep spans in decent repair.
The Seattle Department of Transportation owns and operates 124 bridges. The Second Avenue Extension Bridge in Pioneer Square (built in 1928), Magnolia Bridge (1929) and University Bridge (1930) are rated in “poor” condition.
Councilmember Alex Pedersen, chair of the Transportation & Utilities Committee, wants the city to issue $100 million in general obligation bonds so SDOT can repair and maintain bridges at the level recommended by the auditor.
His amendment is supported by council members Lisa Herbold, Andrew Lewis and Debora Juarez. The city council is expected to take up the legislation on Oct. 28.
To make the estimated annual debt payment on the bonds of roughly $7 million, the council would have to cut from somewhere. Durkan’s proposed budget for SDOT is $718 million next year.
Pedersen deserves credit for keeping bridge funding in the budget debate. The cost of inaction and delay is visible every day in the long lines of traffic along West Marginal Way Southwest as frustrated people try to get to and from West Seattle.
The city council should find the funding necessary to finally follow through on preserving and protecting Seattle’s most vital and vulnerable transportation infrastructure.