New ‘rapid’ replacement option introduced for closed West Seattle Bridge

SEATTLE — A new “rapid” replacement option for the closed West Seattle Bridge was introduced Wednesday at a meeting between city staff and the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force that could trim years off the project’s timeline and reconnect the peninsula to the rest of the city faster.

“A replacement before today’s meeting was listed at the earliest at six years,” said Dan Austin, a business owner and member of the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force. “With this new, unvetted on our end option, they’re saying possibly as fast as three.”

Austin said Seattle has hired the same company that designed the Lake Champlain emergency replacement bridge. New York state said the original 80-year-old bridge was demolished and replaced with a new bridge in two years.

“The bridge option was announced to the CTF [Wednesday],” said Austin, who told KIRO 7 the three-year option would be a ray of hope. “It has the potential to be a game-changer but again with zero information it’s hard to get excited about it.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan was expected to announce a decision next week on whether to replace or repair the West Seattle Bridge, but Austin said it was announced at Wednesday’s online meeting that her decision would be delayed several weeks. The mayor’s office and the Seattle Department of Transportation did not respond Wednesday to KIRO 7′s requests for additional details.

“If I were to read the leaves, it seems like they’re less confident in a repair option and leaning more towards a replacement,” said Austin.

The city has expressed concerns about how long repairs could hold up for the bridge that will inevitably have to replaced. The cracking bridge has been closed since March, dealing a blow to local businesses and creating a traffic nightmare for commuters.

“Pandemic, recession, and no bridge is not a winning equation for business success,” said Austin, who owns Peel & Press on California Avenue.

Austin said the task force has not yet been given the estimates from the city for how much the repair and replace options, including the new rapid replacement, could cost. Numbers from a cost benefit analysis are expected Monday that will factor into the group’s recommendation for the bridge, Austin said.

“We have to get it right the first time,” said Austin. “If we make a mistake, it can be years-long delays beyond that or financial hardship if tolls are in place or other ways to fund this.”