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‘Priority Hire’ approval to create local construction jobs for West Seattle Bridge repairs

USDOT approval paves the way for federal funds and direct support in economically distressed communities.  

West Seattle Bridge under construction. Photo Credit: SDOT Flickr.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has approved the City of Seattle’s request to use “Priority Hire”, requiring that the contractor repairing the West Seattle Bridge hire from local economically distressed communities as it works to reopen the high-bridge by mid-2022.

“Our top priority is supporting our residents and neighborhoods most affected by the bridge closure. Through Priority Hire, now we can support our communities in another way by providing high-quality, family-wage construction career access and direct opportunities to small businesses that have been disproportionately impacted over the past year.” 

Mayor Jenny Durkan

“We’re grateful to the U.S. Department of Transportation for this designation. Hiring local workers will bring direct and tangible relief to communities in West Seattle and the Duwamish Valley. Additionally, having access to federal funding will reduce the city’s financial burden as we repair the bridge and advance our economic recovery from the pandemic.” 

SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe

“Our economy should work for everyone in this city, and USDOT’s approval to have Priority Hire on the West Seattle Bridge will help ensure that it does. We’re also increasing awareness of and access to the jobs Priority Hire provides. Recent investments in community efforts will help residents access the opportunities provided by the project and move into family-wage jobs that are so critical to our communities.” 

Finance and Administrative Services Director Calvin W. Goings, whose department oversees the City’s Priority Hire program

This week’s Priority Hire announcement creates an important opportunity for economically distressed communities affected by the high bridge closure. 

The project is relatively large and highly visible compared to other City public works projects, with many communities directly impacted through its closure, emergency work, and ongoing construction. Priority Hire is designed to offer a positive community impact from the construction.  

The City of Seattle has already secured $37.7 million in federal funding out of an estimated $54.8 million needed for the construction costs to complete the final phase of repairs to the West Seattle Bridge. We continue to meet key milestones which keep the West Seattle Bridge repair process on schedule, and remain on track to reopen the bridge in mid-2022.  

Priority Hire began in late 2013, resulting in $45 million in construction wages going back into low-income communities through 2020, which is $20 million more than would have been earned without the program. Nine of the 31 economically distressed areas prioritized by the West Seattle Bridge program are in locations impacted by the closure.  

About 5,800 construction workers live in the impacted areas and could be among those prioritized for employment on the project. These communities could earn an estimated $600,000 to $900,000 in direct wages from work on the project, in addition to benefits. Without Priority Hire, the same communities could earn just half that. 

Since the West Seattle Bridge closed in March 2020, transportation options and access to regional job and employment opportunities, local small businesses and the freight network became more difficult. Local communities have also been living with increased bridge detour traffic on local streets during the bridge closure, adding pollution to communities which have long experienced greater health, public safety, and economic disparities.

We are implementing a series of smaller projects to promote local safety and mobility in these neighborhoods, but believe that direct economic opportunity will provide additional support to these communities as they persevere through the compounding crises of the pandemic and the bridge closure. 

If you or someone you know is interested in working in construction, check out the Apprenticeship Guidebook:  

Read more about Priority Hire.