The ongoing emergency closure of the West Seattle Bridge, a vital and heavily used work of infrastructure that needs to be either repaired or replaced altogether posthaste after large cracks were discovered in it this past March, would put any city in a massive financial bind under any circumstances. But during a global pandemic when cities are confronting severe and still largely yet unknown economic fallout, Seattle might be facing a budgetary nightmare.
As reported by the Seattle Times, estimated figures have come to light via recently introduced legislation and they don’t look good. Per said legislation introduced by Seattle’s City Council, $70 million in municipal funds needs to be redirected from other uses via an interfund loan and used for traffic control, stabilization work, and other top-line priorities including preventing the shuttered bridge from collapsing altogether.
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) also needs to secure $100 million through a bond sale in addition to another internal loan. As noted by the Times, SDOT is estimating that between $160 million and $225 million in total will go towards bridge-related work by the end of the next year. None of these funds, of course, will be used to actually cover the construction of a full or partial replacement bridge.
SDOT has released details as to how those funds will be used as part of its West Seattle Bridge Plan. Activities include bridge monitoring and testing, emergency stabilization repairs, planning and design costs for repair or replacements, Low Bridge monitoring and maintenance, and traffic and travel mitigation projects including Reconnect West Seattle projects.
A verdict on whether or not the bridge is salvageable and can be fixed or needs to be demolished and fully replaced won’t come until at least October. In the meantime, officials are working around the clock analyzing the condition of the cantilevered segmental span that connects the peninsular and largely residential West Seattle with the rest of the Seattle—“a lifeline to the local and regional transportation network,” as the mayor’s office put it. An advisory panel of engineers recently relayed that repairing the ailing bridge is not “infeasible or economically unviable” based on the limited information available to them at the time.
In July, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan declared the closure of the less-than-four-decades-old bridge as a civil emergency—a first for the city with regard to a work of infrastructure—as a means of fast-tracking requests for federal and state emergency funds. Many Seattle residents praised the embattled mayor’s move but, in the end, the maneuver doesn’t erase the unforetold mountain of debt—not to mention slashed city services—that the city is facing in the very near future resulting from the most-unfortunate crisis-within-a-crisis unfolding across the Duwamish Waterway.