Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Rasmussen: Seattle needs transpo levy renewal or increase

by January 10th, 2013

At a meeting this week of the Seattle City Council’s Transportation Committee, Chairman and Council Member Tom Rasmussen said the city will have no “other choice but to go back to the voters again in two years to ask for approval of extending or perhaps even increasing” the current “Bridging The Gap” levy before it expires in 2016, in order to continue progress on bridge maintenance, repair and replacement, and funding for other city transportation system fixes. His remarks came at the close of a presentation January 8th in which department officials accented some sobering facts. They stressed Seattle has a $1.8 billion deferred transportation maintenance backlog including more than $1 billion for bridges, retaining walls, public stairways and other vertical structures; and that current annual transportation maintenance spending of $40 to $50 million by the city is far short of the needed $190 million per year.

Approved by Seattle voters in fall 2006 and implemented beginning in 2007, the nine-year, $365 million “Bridging The Gap” property tax levy has been about much more than just bridges. It has also covered paving, sidewalk construction and repair, transit improvements, and even tree pruning and planting.

Addressing Committee and Council Members Rasmussen, Bruce Harrell and Jean Godden, Seattle Department of Transportation Roadway Structures Manager John Buswell explained that while all of the 103 bridges the city owns are definitely safe, 62 are technically past the end of their planned “design life” of 50 to 60 years, and will need to be replaced at a cost of $1.4 billion. Though the work can be phased, and Seattle bridges routinely last past their design life by a decade or more, it’s nonetheless smart to start planning for their replacement now, Buswell and department director Peter Hahn told the committee. (Seattle Channel video follows. Skip to 30:11 for the bridges segment.)

“Seattle does have an aging bridge inventory, which requires a managed…replacement and rehabilitation program to avoid restrictions to vehicles, or ultimately, bridge closures,” said Buswell. He added the standard is that replacement becomes necessary if rehabilitation can’t extend a bridge’s life at least 20 years without costing more than 50 percent of its current value.

The federal government is the city’s largest funding partner in bridge work but because the city must compete with others in the state for a two-year $35 million pool of street and bridge rehab or replacement money, the net benefit to Seattle is just a scant few million per year, according to Buswell.

Godden said if there was a headline for this story it might be, “‘Troubled bridges over local waters.'”

Seattle and other cities in metro Puget Sound and statewide are mounting a unified campaign to get the state legislature in the 2013 session to authorize more transportation funding and funding tools, including an increase in the state gas tax.

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