In the coming weeks, Seattle should learn a lot more about Mayor Bruce Harrell’s nominee to lead the city’s transportation department, Greg Spotts.

Transportation issues did not get much attention in last year’s mayoral campaign, which was consumed by concerns about public safety and homelessness.

Spotts’ upcoming confirmation by the Seattle City Council is an opportunity to focus on roads and bridges, pedestrian safety and bike routes, sidewalks and stairways.

If confirmed, Spotts will face continued challenges with Seattle’s aging bridge network.

Last year, the city council granted authority to bond up to $100 million to repair bridges. Harrell refused to issue the bonds, saying SDOT needed more time to plan. Considering how interest rates have risen since then, the decision to delay likely cost millions of dollars in extra interest payments if the city decides to go to the financial markets.

Should Seattle go ahead and issue bridge repair bonds? Should tolls be part of the picture? What is SDOT’s sense of urgency to fix deteriorating bridges?


The Seattle Department of Transportation owns and operates 124 bridges. A city auditor report in 2020 rated the Second Avenue Extension Bridge in Pioneer Square (built in 1928), Magnolia Bridge (1929) and University Bridge (1930) in “poor” condition. Overall, the audit concluded, the condition of the city’s bridges had worsened over the last decade.

Bridge seismic retrofits were promised by the nine-year, $930 million Move Seattle transportation measure, passed in 2015. The upgrades included the Ballard Bridge and Fremont Bridge. But SDOT canceled the work in November 2020 after receiving high cost estimates.

Gaining public trust — as well as balancing mobility, transit, pedestrian safety, and bikes — will be a tall order when the levy returns to the ballot in a few years.

Among other concerns: How will the city proceed with the proposed downtown Center City Connector streetcar? This contentious expansion of the Seattle streetcar system seeks to connect the existing South Lake Union and the First Hill Streetcar lines. The new north-south line is expected to cost about $286 million.

The pandemic dropped overall streetcar ridership by 60% in 2020. Before that, ridership on the First Hill line grew by about 31% while ridership on the South Lake Union line fell by 4% from 2017 to 2018.

Planning work on the proposed Center City Connector has been on hold since 2018, though the city council has funded continued studies. In 2023, Sound Transit will end its $5 million annual contribution to the First Hill Streetcar, further complicating financing of the overall system.


Spotts’ job interview should include how he would judge whether the Center City Connector should be killed or continued, and how the system should be made financially sustainable. No more studies to kick the can further down the road.

The city council’s Transportation and Seattle Public Utilities Committee will hold confirmation hearings on Aug. 16 and Sept. 6. Spotts, who currently serves as the executive officer and chief sustainability officer at the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services, could be approved by the full council by mid-September.

Harrell touted Spotts as a leader who “understands that we must embed safety across all projects, view every decision through a climate lens, and build a transportation system centered on equity, quality infrastructure, and multimodal solutions.”

Spotts can’t be expected to have ready answers to everything, but Seattleites deserve to know which way we’re heading, how we’re going to get there and what it will cost.