Nurse: Health care workers should use West Seattle Low Bridge during pandemic

VIDEO: Healthcare workers worry they can't get to hospitals in time because of West Seattle Bridge

SEATTLE — A West Seattle nurse is asking for health care workers to be allowed to use the West Seattle Low Bridge to get to work during the pandemic.

Andrea Preston is a nurse at Swedish Cherry Hill and lives in West Seattle. She’s worked for Swedish for 33 years. Her 11-minute commute stretched to more than an hour when the West Seattle Bridge closed.

“Essential heath care workers that are taking care of COVID patients can’t get to work in a timely manner because they’re not allowed to use the lower bridge,” said Preston. “It can take upwards of 75 to 80 minutes if I have to go if I’m on call or get called in, and have to go during a traffic time.”

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Preston works in the recovery room for essential surgeries at Swedish, but with COVID-19 cases surging, she and other nurses rotate in to the ICU to care for COVID-19 patients.

Right now, the West Seattle Low Bridge is reserved for emergency vehicles, public transit, freight and longshore workers from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“Allowing the essential workers to use the lower bridge to get to and from work in a timely manner to care for patients during a pandemic seems like a no-brainer,” said Preston.

As soon as January photo enforcement starts on the low bridge, violators will get $75 citations in the mail.

Preston says she reached out to Council Member Lisa Herbold’s Office and was told she’d have to talk to the Seattle Department of Transportation. She says she never heard back from SDOT.

When she talked to managers at Swedish they told her they, too, had been trying to work with SDOT, which offered vanpools — not a viable or safe option for hospital staff during an outbreak. Preston says Swedish cancelled its shuttles and vanpools during the pandemic.

KIRO-7 reached out to SDOT to see if they would consider allowing health care workers to use the West Seattle Low Bridge. A spokesman said SDOT is hesitant to open the bridge to other user groups because it can get congested and then no one can use it. They are working on a new policy for the low bridge, and say a hospital administrator is on the committee as they struggle to decide who will be allowed to use the bridge going forward.

“The Lower Spokane Street Swing Bridge is being asked to play an oversized role in our transportation network since the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge closed in March. Public safety is our top priority. To ensure that emergency responders can get across the low bridge when needed, we immediately restricted use to emergency response vehicles, freight, and transit.

Since then, we’ve been working to update the access policy by working with business, community, healthcare, and government stakeholders, and reviewing traffic data. That work has meant expanding access when there is capacity, allowing use for everyone between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. on all days, and allowing limited use for select, nearby maritime businesses, small businesses on the peninsula, and vanpools for essential workers.

With the transition underway to automated enforcement, we continue to analyze use and look for opportunities to allow more users on the low bridge, while still maintaining access for emergency response vehicles,” SDOT told KIRO 7.

KIRO-7 asked council member Lisa Herbold for her position on allowing health care workers on the bridge.

“The Low Bridge Access Policy Committee of the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force met this week to discuss policy approach and potential users once automated enforcement begins. This is the group charged with making access policy recommendations to SDOT,” Council Member Lisa Herbold told KIRO-7. “I have repeatedly raised with SDOT the needs of health care workers to access the bridge during the pandemic.”

Preston hopes a solution will be reached as soon as COVID-19 cases surge at Seattle hospitals. The West Seattle Bridge will not reopen until mid-2022.

“The bridge is not going to be fixed any time soon and we don’t see an end of this pandemic, so a solution to get us there to help take care of our patients is essential at this point.” said Preston.