The new Magnolia Bridge is A-OK

We are near the end of a three-year, $10-million project to site and design a new Magnolia Bridge to replace the current structure, which was built in 1929. Alternative A has been selected by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), the Port of Seattle, the Magnolia Community Club (MCC) and the Magnolia Chamber of Commerce, and others.

How "A" won requires a little background.

The SDOT design team began with 25 potential route options, and reduced them to eight after assessing their technical and legal challenges. (Even a tunnel through the east hill was considered.) These eight they brought into a public process that the MCC has participated in along with other stakeholders in and around the Magnolia community.

Alternative B required no bridge be built; it followed the shoreline near the marina, came up the valley between the two hills of Magnolia to the Village, and merged into Viewmont. However, the residents who would have been adversely affected successfully lobbied the Mayor's office, and this option was tossed out.

Everyone then assumed that any option that did not have its entry point into Magnolia other than where it is now was DOA. Every other alternative route except "A" cut through the Port's North Bay development plans, and was thus "routis non gratis."

Therefore Alternative A is left holding the ribbon-to-be-cut by default. It will be built parallel to and slightly south of the current bridge, in keeping with SDOT's promise from the beginning to keep the old bridge carrying on until the new bridge is built.

But every good story deserves a good twist, and SDOT didn't disappoint. A couple of days after they announced in a press release that they agreed with MCC, the Chamber and the Port to officially endorse Alternative Route A, SDOT told The Seattle Times that they might change their minds and pick a "slight variation" of Alternative A-one that involved tearing down the old bridge before starting construction on a new bridge, so it could be built within the same footprint.

To residents of Magnolia and the surrounding communities, this was like saying that Seahawks' Qwest Field is a "slight variation" on the refurbishing of the Kingdome. Such a three-year construction plan is unthinkable and unconscionable. It is an insult to all commuters in Magnolia, all potential emergency medical patients and all business owners in the Village who depend on customers from throughout the Seattle area.

At the Design Advisory Group's next meeting on April 5, project leader Kirk Jones apologized to the audience for the press leak. The meeting was held at the Magnolia Community Center, a larger, last-minute substitute venue due to the sudden public interest in the city's agenda. Jones explained that this surprise "Alternative Z" (my label)-never even hinted at during the long public process-was being considered because it would save millions of dollars in right-of-way costs.

However, after a few probing questions, Jones admitted that most of these costs would disappear if the Port agreed to a simple swap of the land between the space under the old bridge and the space under the new bridge.

Should the Port agree to that, if they already agreed that Alternative A would be built right next to the old bridge? Anyone with a 12-year-old child could provide the answer: "Duh!"

Another apology would be appreciated for the most recent press release from SDOT, which states "despite the bridge possibly being closed twice as long [as other alternatives], the public strongly supported Alternative A, which the city selected as the preferred alignment."

What? Either they're smoking some non-medical substance, or everyone in Magnolia missed a meeting. Nobody within 5 miles of Interbay appears ever to have endorsed a downtime of one to three years, which is SDOT's best guesstimate-even before any in-depth engineering analysis is undertaken. SDOT has conveniently blurred the definitions of "downtime" and "construction time."

The latter can be reduced after design and staging efficiencies are studied. The former refers to how long Magnolia residents should endure only two access routes into/out of the area. The answer takes zero analysis: ZERO.

After having to endure the six-month bridge closure for repairs deemed by Nature in 2001 (the Nisqually Quake), the good citizens of Magnolia shouldn't have to endure any disruptions deemed by SDOT in 2010. What that means is that detours must be set up well in advance of the eventual demolition of the 1929 bridge-but only after the new Alternative A route is nearing completion. That has been promised and planned by SDOT from day one, and we cannot stand quietly by and let them dodge their responsibilities.

The future path, route, alternative and option for this public process/project is clear: the city and the Port have to start negotiating in good faith for the land swap and detours mentioned above, and every stakeholder in this endeavor has to get behind a lobbying effort to secure the funding. Only a united effort ASAP will achieve that outcome.

Otherwise our only choice will be to wait for the next inevitable earthquake, landslide, tsunami, plane crash or glacier to take out our current bridge. Then another seemingly unending "Seattle Process" would begin anew.

So let's implore the mayor and SDOT to quickly throw "Alternative Z" into the Sound, to swim with the other red herrings. If Seattle is worth its salt air, it will stick with the product of its own public process: Alternative A.

Vic Barry is president of Magnolia Community Club.[[In-content Ad]]