Audit concludes SDOT should increase bridge maintenance investment

A new report focusing on the state of maintenance among Seattle’s bridges suggests the city needs to invest more in SDOT's programs.

The audit comes after the West Seattle High Rise Bridge had to be closed back in March due to cracks. While a lack of maintenance isn’t being blamed for those problems, Monday’s audit suggests more money for maintenance must be set aside for 70 other bridges across the city.

“We are one accident, one salmon truck from overturning from being stuck here for days,” Kevin Broveleit said.

Working as a real estate broker from West Seattle has been a challenge, said Broveleit, since the main way in and out of the neighborhood is gone.

“We just want to make the city is moving forward with every ounce of energy they can,” he said.

Around 100,000 people once relied on the bridge to connect to downtown and other city neighborhoods. The failure of a vital piece of Seattle’s infrastructure pushed city leaders to review how Seattle Department of Transportation maintains more than 70 other bridges in the city.

“We expect to see cuts across many city departments because of our deficit,” said Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen. “I want to preserve priorities and that includes bridge maintenance.”

Pedersen tasked Seattle’s Office of City Auditor to review SDOT’s bridge maintenance practices and a report issued Monday revealed the agency should spend more money for the work.

“There are even bridges out there that you drive over on a regular basis that you don’t even realize you’re driving over a bridge,” said SDOT’s Lorelei Williams.

Fairway Avenue North along Lake Union is just one example – and it’s already being replace.

While most of the bridges under SDOT’s responsibility are rated in fair condition, 5 are listed as being poor: like parts of the University Bridge and the Magnolia Bridge.

The pandemic carved out huge gaps in the city’s budget and SDOT says the feds may need to help fund projects.

“If we’re not able to get more funding, we will get more impacts of closure of our infrastructure,” said Williams.

“The difference between a 1 year fix and a 6 year fix,” said Broveleit, “We’re talking about shattered hopes and dreams.”

Broveleit also heads West Seattle Bridge Now which is a coalition urging city leaders to focus on repairing the bridge instead of replacing, if possible.

SDOT says a cost benefit analysis scheduled to be complete next month will help leaders decide the future of the West Seattle Bridge. Monday’s audit proves for Broveleit that it’s not only his neighborhood that depends on strong infrastructure.  

“Fixing 5 bridges that are in poor shape have got to be on the top of the list,” he said.

The auditor’s report is expected to be presented publicly during a council committee meeting Wednesday.

Councilmember Pedersen says he hopes the information will urge Mayor Jenny Durkan to consider adding more money to pay for SDOT’s maintenance in next year’s budget.