The morning after the community meeting this week, I received an email from a neighbor asking very pointed questions about what’s next for the Magnolia Bridge.
The neighbor’s questions reflected the deep frustrations voiced at the community meeting this past Monday night.
Many people in Magnolia know a great deal about the history of this bridge and others are new to the conversation. What follows are ten questions/answers as a starting point. I have also attached links to relevant SDOT reports at the bottom of this post if you want to dig deeper.
1. Q: Is this planning new? No. Planning and repairs have been ongoing since the landslide in 1997 and the Nisqually earthquake in 2001. Major repairs were undertaken after both events.
2. Q: Is the current bridge safe? Yes, for day to day traffic for the immediate future. After the Nisqually earthquake, the city spent millions of dollars to stabilize the bridge and replaced all damaged concrete braces with tubular steel bracing. SDOT is maintaining and inspecting the bridge regularly to make sure it is safe for day to day purposes. Bridge maintenance is increasingly expensive.
3. Q: Is the bridge going to be closed in the near future? No. The current effort is a planning study. There is no immediate timeline for design or construction of an alternative. Part of SDOT’s current planning study does include an emergency bridge closure transportation plan (in the event of a major earthquake that closes the bridge). The intention is to consider the safety and resilience of mobility into and out of Magnolia in the event of such a catastrophic earthquake. The short-term focus in the event of an unexpected closure would be on Dravus and Emerson, two bridges that have received extensive repairs in the past few years.
4. Q: Why is this all coming to light now? In 2008, SDOT and King County leadership confirmed that the Magnolia Bridge replacement project does not qualify for federal grants because of relatively low traffic numbers. Local, regional and state funding sources will therefore be required to fund this major capital project. SDOT is in the long-term planning process and is developing financially feasible alternatives for a permanent option to address traffic needs currently served by the existing Magnolia high-span bridge. As mentioned in Q #1, the bridge is safe for current traffic loads and the planning process is long term to determine with community input how to accommodate south end traffic movement.
5. Q: Why are we planning replacement options if the bridge could stay open? SDOT and King County learned some important lessons from the South Park Bridge episode last decade. SDOT is developing safe and financially feasible alternatives to provide access to the south part of Magnolia and the Magnolia Village area before a cataclysmic earthquake occurs. Part of the planning process includes broad community engagement and input.
6. Q: Magnolia already has two other bridges serving traffic in this area of the city. Why are we prioritizing a third bridge? Magnolia neighbors have asked for redundancy in case one of the other bridges should fail during an earthquake and to provide access to the south end of Magnolia. There are alternatives from this planning study that do not recommend providing a third bridge.
7. Q: Do we have $$ to pay for a new bridge now? No. Planning money for a feasibility study was included in the 2015 Move Seattle Levy. The replacement cost of the existing bridge is estimated in broad strokes to be between $350M and $400 M (these numbers are based on the 2006 30% design completed for the in-kind replacement structure and may well be higher). Costs of any option will include environmental designs, engineering designs, grade separation of the BNSF railroad tracks, access to Terminal 91, access to Smith Cove, ped/bike connections, as well as integration with ST3 light rail, integration with the freight corridor and bus routes, Port security and access, and construction phasing and mitigation requirements.
8. Q: How was the original bridge paid for and why can’t we rely on those sources of funding? Costs were paid in 1929 by a Local Improvement District, and shared among Northern Pacific Railway Company, Great Northern Railway Company, and the Oregon-Washington Railroad and Navigation Company, as well as taxpayers located within the LID boundaries. Magnolia neighbors within the defined district provided about 50% of the costs. The rest of the city taxpayers outside of the LID did not share in the costs.
9. Q: What’s happening now? SDOT engineers are evaluating traffic operational needs and options, “geometric feasibility” of road and bridge locations, and financial alternatives. Since federal funds will not be available in major amounts UNLESS there’s a major earthquake and the Magnolia Bridge is destroyed, we must create a funding package from local, regional, and state funding options.
10 Q: Will the public have more opportunities to engage? Absolutely yes. SDOT will schedule additional dates for drop-in discussions, online open-house, surveys, and input. That schedule will be available next month as materials are prepared and schedules known.
I have connected with Sen. Reuven Carlyle, Rep. Gael Tarleton, Rep. Noel Frame, and King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles. We will coordinate closely as the planning process for the Magnolia Bridge moves forward.
For more details:
Project Overview: https://www.seattle.gov/transportation/magnoliabridgeplanning
Emergency Transportation Plans: https://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/SDOT/BridgeStairsProgram/bridges/MagnoliaBridgeTrafficMaintenance.pdf
All the best,