(SDOT camera view of the low bridge tonight)
From Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog Editor
Two months after the surveillance cameras were turned on and a month after the port was announced Terminal 5 won’t open until next year, SDOT still keeps access to low bridges in West Seattle severely restricted.
There has only been one change recently: the provision of on-call service providers in the healthcare sector is possible. A couple of other relaxations are being considered, but are still at least a month away West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force was told today at a meeting that began with the news of a milestone in the repair planning of high bridges (we’ve covered that separately here). An intense discussion ensued (see video here) in which some members of the task force informed SDOT staff that changes should be made earlier.
First the bridge project manager from SDOT Heather Marx
She welcomed “a consistent decline” since enforcement was in place, saying it was “exactly the kind of volume trend we were hoping for”. Even with the traffic they expect when Terminal 5 reopens for cargo next year, most segments of the day are nowhere near being able to maximize the low bridge. For example, below you can see volumes going west – the red line represents the maximum capacity, the gray parts of the bars show the expected T-5 traffic, and the rest of the bars show the actual current usage.
Heading east, however, there have been some busy areas when future T-5 traffic is added:
At the moment, says Marx, they are still collecting information from “community members we haven’t heard from” and are expecting an update at the CTF meeting next month. As soon as they announce changes, they hope they won’t change again until T-5 is ready to open, feeling that this would “confuse people”.
The main change that Task Force members advocate and advocate would be to provide access to people who need to cross the river for life-saving medical treatment. District council member Joe McDermott spoke passionately about it at the WSBCTF meeting last month and did so again today. The city has been responsive to business / organizational needs but needs to be responsive to the needs of individuals as well.
Marx said one thing that stands in the way is trying to get information from medical facilities that are also currently affected by the pandemic.
Member of the task force Deb Barker of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition added their support but said April was not early enough. Perhaps it could be announced by the one-year anniversary of the bridge’s closure on March 23rd. She suggested, “People are dying out there and it would be nice to get them to their treatment sooner.”
Dan Austin of the West Seattle Chamber of CommerceThe Task Force’s Low Bridge Subcommittee member said, “We have been working on it,” but also agrees that the pace of change needs to be faster. He noted that this change should be possible as the traffic volume data shows that using small bridges there are thousands of trips available every day.
City Councilor Lisa Herbold wanted to know more about the barriers that allow patients to have the same access as providers and to cancel citations. In addition, she said, the bridge has capacity on Saturday and Sunday mornings. So why not open it to everyone? She said SDOT had told people they were considering getting access over the weekend (although that wasn’t mentioned at that meeting until she brought it up). So what’s the status for this change? Marx reiterated that they are looking for “input from community members that we don’t hear from often”. Herbold pressed, what does that mean? Who do you need to speak to, who you haven’t spoken to yet? Marx did not answer directly, but replied, “We have heard from the community that it is confusing when we make too many changes.” They hope to bundle these changes together. What they expect from the medical community is, “Some sort of way to understand the size of the population that we are concerned about.” The system they have put in place for the on-call medical providers to have quotes canceled isn’t working that well, she added. “We have to manage this and it’s a lot more complicated than you can imagine. … is there 10 people? Is it 10,000 people? … We work as quickly and diligently as possible. ”
Georgetowns John Persak said he was concerned about the concept of “pitting community members against each other for a finite resource”. He said SDOT’s estimates of low bridge capacity are “conservative” and would like to see this assessed and possibly adjusted: “I think anyone can be accommodated.” Marx replied, “It’s a finite resource and shaving over time won’t change that.”
Task force member and advocate for the visually impaired Marci Carpenter It has been suggested that life-saving treatments can encompass both mental and physical health. Hence, SDOT would have to be careful in defining who is eligible for this access.
Seattle Harbor Commissioner Peter Steinbrück repeated that they should be able to accommodate more weekend traffic on the bridge. Possibly some shift schedules in the port could be postponed. (Persak later said that the terminal operators have flexibility over the weekend operations to “open the gate” so the city could possibly speak to the terminal operators and take some of the load off bridge traffic.)
Member of the task force Anne Higuera from Window construction (WSB sponsor) noted that Washington State Ferries Already has a log for medical boarding, suggesting SDOT may speak to WSF.
Diane Sosne from SEIU Healthcare 1199 Perhaps a public announcement of patient access for lifesaving treatment could be made and the city could wait to see how many people use that access: “I think realistically this is the only way we will know of to make a call from. “
Lora Radford of West Seattle Junction Associationwho is also a member of the Low Bridge Subcommittee suggested creating a limited number of posts for access and once they are full, instead of first figuring out how many people might be eligible and from where out they could work backwards there.
SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe said they are working so that they can balance everything. But he repeated Marx by saying that the city has heard “a lot of confusion” and wants to respect that. “It’s just very, very challenging” to create and maintain the policy while ensuring that emergency access is not compromised.
In the end, it didn’t seem likely that anything would change before the next Task Force meeting on April 8 at 4 p.m.