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The West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force met for the 12th time to discuss the cost-benefit analysis and talk again with Mayor Durkan

Mayor Durkan on the Zoom call for the meeting with the task force. Bookshelf is shown in the background.
Click on the image above to watch the meeting in full.

“We are all making this a big priority […] the impacts of this bridge being closed cannot be overstated.

The regional impacts are absolutely clear. Just the Port alone services not just our region but multiple states. When I met with one of the Senators, they are creating a map to show how many states rely on what comes in and out of that port: Hawaii, Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and almost to Colorado. The regional impacts are huge and we are going to leverage that to get as many federal dollars as we can, whatever route we take.” 

Mayor Jenny Durkan

This meeting consisted of a little less “Powerpointing” and a little more talking than usual! 

The Community Task Force discussed their thoughts about the cost-benefit analysis after their thorough review. Members raised important points for both options: “repair, but replace later” or “pivot immediately to replacement.” 

We began with a Q&A period to discuss the cost-benefit analysis (CBA). Some key points raised include: 

  • The CBA mentions that minimizing the duration of immediate closures is more important than future closures based on the assumption of Link Light Rail availability after 2032, but there are many components outside of duration of closure that impact the final decision. Other components are critical in the consideration, including attributes like seismic resilience and safety, constructability, and risks. 
  • The CBA does not quantify the cost of socioeconomic impacts to the fullest extent, which means there is more to explore about opportunity costs in future studies. It is important to deeply understand the value of maintaining community, businesses, and more as it relates to just how long repairs might last and full costs associated with another unplanned closure at some point in the future. 
  • This is a critical example of how the CBA does not – and was not intended to – yield a specific decision on any alternative. It’s one tool among many that will help inform a comprehensive consideration of the best path forward. Just like the CBA is itself one consideration among many, each component within the CBA tells only one part of the story, and considering a single data point in isolation and without broader context can lead to misleading narratives.   

The Task Force discussed their thoughts on options for repair or replace, and how they are thinking about the pros and cons of each option. 

  • Those leaning more closely towards replacement at this time explain that while repair will get us open faster, we still don’t know how long the rest of the bridge will last, and there are concerns about both the challenge of funding higher maintenance costs and carrying out that complex body of work over a very long period of time without impacting other important inspections, monitoring and maintenance work elsewhere in the City. Further, repairs would entail one or more future shutdowns, which would be further disruptive to the community, and much harder to fund, making a “planned” and “timed” transition from repair to replace very difficult to navigate. 
  • Those leaning more closely towards repair at this time, in the absence of additional information, emphasize the importance of restoring travel as soon as possible, as there are many impacts stemming from an extended shutdown for communities and small businesses, as well as unquantified socioeconomic impacts on affected communities. They also note that it is the least costly option up front.  
    • Ultimately, cost is a key element of the CBA. The total ownership costs – a combination of capital costs and life cycle costs – for Alternatives 2 (repair) and 4 (superstructure replacement) are similar, at roughly $1 billion over time,  However, annual operations and maintenance costs vary between the options, and securing funding for those costs in an ongoing challenge – especially for the repair pathway. 
  • Others note the importance of strong and efficient coordination and decision-making. While we have taken time to explore the timelines around repair or replacement options, it is also important to shorten the decision-making timeline. Coordination with partner transportation agencies is also an important component of decision-making. 

Mayor Durkan listened in to the conversation and provided input as well. She shared her thoughts on responses to the Task Force questions and comments. 

The three questions Mayor Durkan has when looking at options along the spectrum from repair to replace are: 

  • How much it is going to cost both to build it and to maintain it? 
  • How long will it last? 
  • When can we get it open? 

She emphasized that everything we have done to-date is necessary whichever option we choose, and commended SDOT for taking this bridge closure very seriously and working quickly to be able to pursue all options. 

There is not a set date for her decision, and she is working to obtain additional stakeholder input. By making a decision, she wants to be sure viable options are not eliminated.  

There will be additional discussion. Our next meetings will take place on November 18 and December 2. We will post links to watch those meetings live in our Weekly Update: West Seattle High-Rise Bridge blogs, which are posted every Monday. 

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