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Traffic and Revenue Study will help inform funding options for West Seattle Bridge Program

Let’s face it, all options to repair or replace the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge will likely have a hefty price tag that will require close partnership and support at both the State and federal levels.  

Last week we shared the framework of our cost-benefit analysis to help guide the city’s decision to repair or replace the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge. In it, we outlined six broad concepts of what repair or replace scenarios could look like. As we progress in the cost-benefit analysis, we’ll develop rough cost estimate ranges that take into account both upfront capital costs, along with ongoing maintenance costs for each of the broad concepts. 

The City is in the early stages of gathering feedback, studying options, and using community perspectives to thoughtfully design a funding strategy that is equitable, transparent, and responsive to West Seattle and the broader community’s needs.  

As outlined in a previous blog post and discussed at length with the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force on July 8, 2020, we’re gathering information for all funding options, including state and federal grants and loans, along with local funding options 

Ultimately, our decision to repair or replace the High-Rise Bridge, and how to pay for it, will be driven by what is best for West Seattle and the surrounding communities. 

Today, we started a search for a consulting firm to conduct an independent Traffic and Revenue Study that would include exploring how much revenue could potentially be raised from tolling and developing a clearer understanding of associated impacts that might occur as a result of this approach. 

We have not decided to enact tolling. Instead, this study provides a starting point for discussions about whether tolling makes sense as one of the ways to pay for the West Seattle Bridge Program. Most important, it could serve as a critical precursor to securing federal funding. 

Very critically, this kind of study is also a necessary requirement to pursue other funding options, like federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loans that provide long-term, low-interest loans and other types of credit assistance for the construction of surface transportation projects.  

Conducting this kind of study does not lock us into any particular path, it just helps us understand the realm of possibilities and how things will change in the future.   

A Traffic and Revenue Study will also provide valuable insight into several other important questions beyond funding.  

For example, it will provide a comprehensive model of the types of trips which people in West Seattle need to make, and how transportation demand will shift over the next several decades in response to planned transportation projects like the future LINK light rail line to West Seattle.   

Any conversation about local taxes or tolling would need to specifically look at race, equity, and the financial impacts for families who already carry a heavy burden due to the unexpected bridge closure. To help frame that conversation, this study will include equity analyses to identify who would be impacted, who would benefit, and who pays based on social demographics, including income, race, and indigenous tribes. It will also look at income-based tolling models to mitigate cost and impact on historically and currently marginalized communities. 

Another important outcome of this study will be to understand how people’s travel habits would adjust in reaction to tolls – like how many people would choose to change their route or take transit instead of paying a toll. This helps us make realistic financial predictions, and also helps make sure that we wouldn’t create unintended consequences.  

Our highest priorities are public safety and doing what’s best for the West Seattle and broader community. These two factors will drive our decision to repair or replace the bridge and how to pay for it.  

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