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Mayor Durkan declares the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge a City emergency at a critical juncture, opening the possibility of state and federal assistance and new ability to expedite contracts and services.

West Seattle High Rise Bridge viewed from below.

Understanding state and federal investments will be an essential resource, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan signed a proclamation of civil emergency regarding the closure of the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge and follow-on impacts, and signed an additional emergency order requesting state and federal assistance.  

The emergency proclamation signed by Mayor Durkan today is the first ever brought forward and put into effect by a Mayor of Seattle in response to a critical piece of infrastructure. 

Our cities are facing a series of unprecedented crises, including rising COVID-19 cases and a significant economic crisis. At the same time, residents, workers, and businesses have been deeply impacted by the closure of the West Seattle Bridge – the City’s busiest bridge. As SDOT continues to mitigate traffic impacts and stabilize the bridge while evaluating repair and replace options, this emergency proclamation will give Seattle the tools we need to expedite permitting and procurement, and strengthen our efforts to receive state and federal funding,” said Mayor Durkan 

Since the closure of the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge on March 23, 2020, we have been working tirelessly to restore travel across the Duwamish and mitigate associated traffic impacts with the speed and urgency this crisis deserves.

For the Mayor and SDOT, the closure continues to be of the highest priority as the bridge is a community lifeline to our local and regional transportation network, and directly impacts our critical maritime and freight industries. 

With each new challenging step in our efforts to reconnect West Seattle, we have brought to bear the full and proper resources the City and our partners have to offer – from completing more than 80 immediate multimodal upgrades, to including West Seattle bus and transit needs in Mayor Durkan’s Seattle Transportation Benefit District proposal, to launching Reconnect West Seattle to restore travel across the Duwamish to similar levels seen before the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge closure – so as to make progress, mitigate impacts, and, above all else, maintain public safety.   

A quote from Sam Zimbabwe, SDOT Director, regarding the West Seattle Bridge.

Today’s emergency proclamation continues that effort to align current needs with the best tools and resources available to SDOT and the City.

This precedent-setting act by Mayor Durkan will have four important impacts in the short-term and will play an essential role over time, ensuring that everyone outside of West Seattle, from Olympia to (the other) Washington, also know that this is an emergency requiring rapid action until travel capacity is restored. 

This emergency proclamation will: 

  • Strengthen funding efforts and flexibility at all levels of government; 
  • Enable critical actions around the High-Rise Bridge—no matter what repair or replacement path is selected—through streamlined permitting, materials and contract procurement; 
  • Support West Seattle Low Bridge precautionary strengthening work; and 
  • Support implementation of mitigation measures in the greater Duwamish Valley communities impacted by changed travel patterns while the High-Rise Bridge is closed 

The emergency proclamation recognizes that this is a long-term emergency that will continue to evolve as we plan for infrastructure repairs, investment, and multimodal mitigations. The proclamation also includes Mayor Durkan and SDOT’s continued commitment to transparency through regular reporting to the public. 

First, the emergency proclamation comes at a critical moment when the Mayor and SDOT are elevating ongoing conversations with federal partners and other elected leaders about securing the funding needed to build the best possible outcome for West Seattle and surrounding communities.  

Last week, we outlined what state and federal funding opportunities could look like. Issued in tandem with those conversations, our emergency proclamation demonstrates urgency when pursuing these opportunities. It also makes clear that this is a crisis with impacts that reverberate across all of Seattle, the region, and the state with immediate impacts and lasting consequence if we’re not able to move quickly.  

Second, just this week, our Technical Advisory Panel (TAP), released an official statement sharing that the information they have reviewed indicates repairs are not infeasible and recommending that we continue to explore the repair option fully along with various replacement options.  

The TAP is an independent advisory committee made up of bridge engineers and experts from across the country assembled by SDOT to guide, inform and review efforts to repair or replace the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge.

This statement is important not only because it aligns with our recent analysis indicating that repairing the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge is possible, but also because it affirms an important milestone that should and will be bolstered by this emergency proclamation. That milestone marks the end of review about whether repair is possible, and the rapid transition to the critical question of whether repair of the High-Rise Bridge is advisable, relative to other replacement options available.  

This is a long-term emergency with no easy answers, and we need an emergency proclamation to be able to do whatever is necessary to expedite progress and mitigate impacts to users, the city, and regional economy.  

Third, we recently announced an ongoing body of precautionary work to ensure the West Seattle Low Bridge can continue to play the outsized role asked of it by the long-term closure of the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge. 

The Low Bridge is now an essential component of the West Seattle transportation network that keeps freight, emergency vehicles, and transit moving on and off the peninsula. Using this new authority, we are expediting critical strengthening measures for the Low Bridge, ensuring that rapid action helps this tiny but mighty bridge play its newly elevated, essential role.  

And fourth, the closure of the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge continues to be a daily, acute challenge for those who once relied on the bridge to commute to work, school, medical appointments, and many other daily needs. 

The changed travel patterns have already begun to affect communities on both sides of the Duwamish, and our Reconnect West Seattle efforts will be critical for managing the multimodal transportation network.  

Additionally, for our maritime and freight industry that operate near the Low and High-Rise Bridges, these challenges pose an existential threat if not resolved quickly or in a manner that preserves Mariner access through the Duwamish Channel. These industries support tens of thousands of jobs along the Duwamish River and across Harbor Island, as well as the critical supply chain to Alaska, Hawaii, and across the globe.  

While the City is taking these actions today, West Seattle and the surrounding communities can also take action right now to make their voices heard and drive the right solutions forward.

On July 10, SDOT launched two opportunities for community members to tell us what they need to move on and off the West Seattle peninsula and improve safety and traffic outcomes in communities along the detour routes:  

  • Reconnect West Seattle Survey – This survey is a chance for everyone living in West Seattle to let the SDOT and our transit partners know what will help change the way they travel to and from the West Seattle peninsula.  

The survey and ballots will be open from July 10 – July 31 and available in multiple languages. Paper ballots and surveys are available upon request. 

Sign up to receive West Seattle Bridge emails.    

Visit our West Seattle High-Rise Bridge website and stay informed and fill out your Reconnect West Seattle Survey!