Last month Mayor Durkan decided to repair the West Seattle Bridge instead of replacing it. This is faster and cheaper, but means the next big bridge project in this corridor (except Link construction) will be decades sooner.
I don’t know if the war-on-cars people ever converged to a position on this subject, but this is the right call, for three reasons:
1. It’s a bad time for new capital commitments. We all have opinions on the post-pandemic future of commuting, but any honest person doesn’t know for sure what traffic patterns will be in 2025. It makes sense to wrap up projects that are almost done (like Sound Transit 2), or putter along in the planning phase of far-out stuff (like ST3), but it’s a uniquely bad time to start motion on a giant transportation project. In other words, it’s premature to take a big step back by canceling something, but also unnecessarily risky to add big new commitments.
2. A “rebuild” is never just a rebuild. I’m no expert on modern highway standards, but the viaduct experience suggests that any “rebuild” is a much larger monstrosity than whatever it replaces. Furthermore, big replacement efforts can’t help but become a Christmas list for community amenities (see the Green Lake Community Center ($) or the much-maligned North Precinct ($)). We’d be lucky to end up with a project with as little climate impact as the current bridge.
3. The future is bright. Bill Gates says that “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” The most involved stakeholders aren’t about to accept a solution without a giant highway over the Duwamish. A few decades from now, after generational change and a longstanding light rail line to the Junction, attitudes might be different.
Kicking the can down the road is often an underrated strategy, and in this case circumstances are especially fortuitous. Luckily, for once, expedience has coincided with the right thing to do.