With South Park Bridge Closed, Commuters Turn To Alternate Routes

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by Ralph Nichols

The long-dreaded day of reckoning for commuters who used South Park Bridge across the Duwamish Waterway – many of them for decades – arrived on June 30 when it was closed forever to vehicle traffic at the end of the afternoon commute.

And with another $61 million still needed for the project to demolish the 79-year-old draw span and build a new bridge connecting 14th Ave. S. and 16th Ave. S., efforts by King County officials continue to cobble together a funding package totaling $131 million.

King County, which owns the bridge, is expected to apply in August for a federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant for the rest of the money.

Only a fraction of the funds needed was available until recently. An 11th-hour flurry of pledges from state and local sources generated $70 million in recent weeks for the demolition/construction project.

But even if the county had all the money in the bank right now, it would take about three and a half years before a new drawbridge could be completed and open to traffic.

King County, faced with a multi-million-dollar revenue shortfall, has pledged $30 million for construction of a new South Park Bridge.

The State of Washington, faced with an estimated $3 billion shortfall, has pledged another $20 million.

And the city of Seattle, also facing major budget problems, has pledged $15 million.

The Port of Seattle has pledged an additional $5 million.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, announcing the state’s participation in replacing the bridge, said, “The South Park Bridge is a critical piece of infrastructure for the region’s ability to move freight, but it’s also the primary physical and symbolic connection to one of King County’s most diverse and vibrant neighborhoods.

The South Park Bridge's tender office now sits empty, silent. Photos by Michael Brunk.

“The efforts by the region to find a way to replace this aging bridge is an example of how government and the community can work together to make a difference. I’m proud that the state is going to be a part of this partnership with our $20 million commitment.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine thanked the state along with the city and the port, “for all stepping up and making significant contributions toward the replacement of this transportation lifeline for King County and the broader region.

“This shows that regional cooperation and strong partnerships can create success where the old way of going it alone has failed,” added Constantine, who has been working with governments and businesses to put together a funding package for a new bridge.

District 8 King County Councilwoman Jan Drago, who represents the South Park area as well as Burien, has noted that additional funding partners locally increase the chances of getting federal funding for the project.

The city of Tukwila already has pledged $1.3 toward construction and another $1.7 million for maintenance of a new bridge.

Contributions of land for the right-of-way to build it, which total $5.4 million, have been made by the Puget Sound Regional Council, The Boeing Company, the Port of Seattle, and the King County road fund.

Those most affected by the closure are emergency responders and commuters – including riders on Metro routes 60, 131 and 134 – who travel between Burien or Des Moines and the Boeing facilities in Georgetown or downtown Seattle.

The long-term impact of the closure is not yet clear, but traffic is more crowded on the alternate routes – SR-509 and Highway 99 over the 1st Ave. S. Bridge, and Tukwila International Blvd./E. Marginal Way S. – during morning and afternoon commutes.

South Park Bridge carried 20,000 vehicles across the Duwamish Waterway daily.

Local and state officials have long known that South Park Bridge needed to be replaced due to structural problems that imperiled public safety, and to unreliable mechanical and electrical systems that threatened to interrupt both street and marine traffic.

Built in 1931, the bridge served as a vital link in an important freight corridor for manufacturing and industrial centers in south Seattle, and a regional connector to Sea-Tac International Airport, Boeing Field and the Port of Seattle.

For more information courtesy King County, click here (PDF file).

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