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Magnolia Bridge Replacement Project

From The Seattle Times:

No cash in coffer, but plans go ahead for Magnolia bridge

By Susan Gilmore
Seattle Times staff reporter

The earthquake-damaged Magnolia Bridge will be replaced, but the costs have climbed to $200 million and the city has no money for the job.

The bridge replacement joins a list of other transportation projects, including the Alaskan Way Viaduct, where plans are being developed with no money available.

"No one has forgotten the Magnolia Bridge, least of all the mayor," said Grace Crunican, head of the city's Department of Transportation.

But the city has received just $10 million for the design and environmental review of three alternatives for the bridge replacement.

Last week the city said it may add a fourth alternative: repairing and upgrading the existing bridge, which is certain to be unpopular with the community because it could cause the bridge to be closed for two years.

The bridge, damaged in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, was closed for nearly four months, creating huge traffic jams in the neighborhood. The repairs cost $3 million.

The original replacement cost for the bridge was $139 million but that rose to $200 million for several reasons: poorer-than-expected soil conditions for pile driving, extra detour costs, and right of way acquisition money.

Also, the price initially was based on the value of 2003 dollars, rather than the value of dollars in 2011, when the project would be in full swing, said Kirk Jones, project manager.

There is little organized community opposition to any of the three bridge alternatives since Mayor Greg Nickels in 2003 dropped the most-contentious alternative, called Alignment B, which would have threaded the bridge through a residential area, likely creating traffic jams around Magnolia Village.

"The one thing that impresses me is the time it takes for this process to work," said Sue Olson, a Magnolia resident who has been active in the bridge issue and who fought Alignment B.

"Now that the cost factor has been made known, now they're looking at rehabbing the bridge. It's been a real eye-opener to me to see how these major projects take shape."

The bridge, which carries 20,000 cars a day, was built in 1929, replacing a wooden trestle bridge.

The three replacement options include:

  • Alignment A: Building a new bridge immediately south of the existing bridge. It also includes an interchange at midspan to provide access to the waterfront and Port of Seattle property. City officials say this is likely the least-expensive option and may be the most popular among Magnolia residents.
  • Alignment C: Building a new bridge over the railroad tracks between 15th Avenue West and the Port property just north of the existing bridge. A ramp would be built climbing up to Magnolia Bluff, connecting at the existing bridge's western end. An existing road and new road would give access to the Port property and waterfront.
  • Alignment D: The city would build a new bridge in the form of a long arc north of the existing bridge, and new ramps would be built to connect with 15th Avenue West. A diamond interchange would be built in the middle of the bridge to provide access to the waterfront and Port property. This is considered the most expensive of the three options.

The city is still studying how much it would cost to rebuild the existing bridge.

Magnolia businessman Mike Smith, a member of the Magnolia Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber prefers Alignment A because it would require the least time for closure of the existing bridge. He doesn't expect the city to rebuild the existing bridge.

"I imagine that is the very last thing that would ever happen, to redo what's already there," he said. "I can't imagine how it would pencil out to make it the most preferred."

He said the chamber doesn't oppose any of the three alternatives but that any proposal that would cause long-term closure of the existing bridge could be disastrous for the Magnolia business community.

"When it closed before, it was horrible. Forty percent of our business comes from off the hill," Smith said. "If everything gets funneled through [West] Dravus Street and Fishermen's Terminal, your traffic patterns are gridlock."

Mick Schultz, Port of Seattle spokesman, said the Port doesn't have a preferred alternative but wants to ensure access to Piers 90 and 91, near where the Port is considering building a major bio-tech development on 82 acres of land. The piers will remain in maritime use.

"We can live with any of them," Schultz said.

The city expects a draft environmental-impact statement on the project will be released by the end of the year, when the city will pick a preferred alternative. Construction is expected to begin in 2009 and take about three years.

That's if the city can find money to rebuild the bridge. The city hopes to tap federal, state and local funds, but Crunican acknowledged, "We don't know what the financing plan is going to be."

Magnolia resident Shary Flenniken said she wonders how the $10 million the city already has received for the project has been spent, but she said she isn't worried about the city finding the money to replace the bridge.

"The time line is so far out there, you don't know what will happen to the economy or government in that time," she said. "I think these things are steamrollers. If they can come up with billions to send to Iraq, someone will pull some strings. Eventually they will do it."

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or

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