One is left to conclude that our SDOT “partners” were either professionally incompetent, or they intentionally misrepresented these issues.

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As one who has been intimately involved in locating the western landing for the new Northgate pedestrian bridge across the North Seattle College Campus, I share the public’s frustrations over the delays associated with this project. These delays speak to a disturbing measure of incompetence on the part of the Seattle Department of Transportation, its indifference to the interests of the host community and its unwillingness to work with the college to create a safer design for this important public facility.

Despite the fact that the western landing traverses more than 1,000 feet of our campus, SDOT never bothered to consult with the college in planning this project, which will span Interstate 5 and allow better access to the Northgate light-rail station for pedestrians and cyclists.

City transportation officials presented their plans to us at the same time they were released to the general public. It arrived with a caution that the project was already over-budget and behind schedule, so major changes wouldn’t be possible at this late stage in the process.

Designed purely to minimize costs, this plan presented major public-safety issues, along with a host of other problems for the college. While SDOT ultimately offered some variations on that design, none served to address the most critical issues. This alignment puts evening users in an unoccupied area with no natural surveillance from neighbors, businesses or roads, along a route which can’t easily be monitored by police. With a blind corner at the landing, westbound users won’t know what awaits them until just before they arrive. Located astride a 12-acre parcel of dense woods and wetlands, it puts evening users in an incredibly vulnerable position.

Unable to resolve these problems, the college advanced a proposal to locate this bridge along the North 100th Street corridor. This was the original route selected for this facility, endorsed by the community for public-safety purposes. This linear alignment allows users to see the complete path between the bridge-crest and the landing, and will allow for regular police monitoring of the entire route. It has no impacts on the adjoining wetlands, integrates well with the campus layout and should be no more expensive than the city’s plan.

SDOT dismissed this proposal outright, citing a long list of permitting and regulatory requirements which they assured us would render this route impractical. Months later, they would admit that they never actually evaluated the proposal, as SDOT has a policy of not evaluating plans which are not their own.

In the following months, the college invested hundreds of hours evaluating the permitting and regulatory requirements cited by the city. In the end, we found that none of them would preclude locating the bridge along this route. One is left to conclude that our SDOT “partners” were either professionally incompetent, or they intentionally misrepresented these issues.

After stalling this project for the last nine months by misleading the college (and the state of Washington) on these issues, SDOT is finally compelled to admit that this is a viable (and indeed, safer) alignment for the west-side landing. At this late date, however, they are arguing that this project is now far over-budget and dangerously behind schedule, a circumstance which urgently demands our acceptance of their design, regardless of its shortcomings. At this point, it seems quite obvious that this has been their strategy all along. The budgeted design cost is now $10.9 million with construction estimated at an additional $27 million.

As a lifelong resident of this city, and a true believer in the power of government to serve the interests of society, this has been an incredibly disheartening encounter with the Seattle Department of Transportation. If built as SDOT insists, this bridge will (with great regret) serve as an object lesson to my students for years to come.