(The Center Square) — Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced on Thursday that the city will repair, not replace, the West Seattle Bridge after weighing a number of costly options.
The 36-year-old bridge was closed on March 23 after a routine inspection that found cracks along its high-rise span. It was one of Seattle's busiest crossings and was built with a lifespan of 40 years in mind.
"If we could just restore this bridge immediately, we would do so," Durkan said. "If there was a magic wand, we could use we would. Unfortunately, that’s not the case."
In October, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) outlined a number of pricy options for dealing with the bridge, which included replacing it with a multi-billion dollar tunnel.
Simply repairing the bridge will cost about $47 million up front, according to an SDOT analysis, but unanticipated engineering problems could drive that way up.
Replacing the bridge's high-rise span would take until 2026 at best and cost the city $383 million.
SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe said repairing the bridge should add a few more decades to its lifespan. It is still unknown how construction on the bridge will fare in winter weather.
Repairs to the West Seattle Bridge should be completed by 2022, according to Durkan.
Durkan said the city had no choice but to choose the quickest option available.
"We know that repair is the fastest way to return mobility to West Seattle," Durkan said.
The decision puts Durkan at odds with environmentalists and urbanists who have pushed for investments in light-rail systems and mitigating traffic pollution.
"Seattle should find a way to keep our bridges safe," tweeted Sierra Club Washington Director Jesse Piedfort. "Seattle should not pay for basic bridge maintenance by robbing funds promised for transit, especially when bus service is already facing big cuts."
King County Metro Transit will see 200 jobs lost in 2021 after losing an estimated $200 million in sales tax revenue this year.
The cuts follow the approval of a two-year budget approved by the King County Council on Tuesday totaling $12.6 billion and 6.7% lower than its last budget.
Paying for the West Seattle Bridge is a matter still up for debate in City Hall where council members are backing a plan to slash car tabs and fast-track bridge maintenance.
Council President Lorena González ultimately submitted a plan cutting car tabs from $80 to $40 under the condition that the council consults with transportation authorities before earmarking any transportation money for Seattle bridges.
Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant was the sole council member to vote in favor of her own amendment raising the city's payroll taxes to pay for bridge maintenance.
"And yes, car tabs are regressive," Sawant tweeted. "Car tab fees are one of the most regressive, punishing taxes on working people, many of whom have been heavily fined or even jailed for not being able to pay."
Puget Sound leaders have voiced interest in pursuing federal funding to cover the costs of the West Seattle Bridge should such a scenario be possible under President-elect Joe Biden's administration.
The Seattle City Council will hold a final vote on the 2021 budget on Monday.