Mayor Jenny Durkan Declares the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge a City Emergency, Requests State and Federal Assistance to Stabilize Critical City Asset

The emergency proclamation will allow the application for state and federal assistance to repair the bridge and new ability to expedite contracts and services.  

Seattle (July 16, 2020) – Understanding state and federal investments will be an essential resource to repair or replace the West Seattle Bridge, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan signed a proclamation of civil emergency regarding the closure of the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge and follow-on impacts, and signed an additional emergency order requesting state and federal assistance. The emergency proclamation signed by Mayor Durkan today is the first brought forward and put into effect by a Mayor of Seattle in response to a critical piece of infrastructure.  

Since the closure of the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge on March 23, 2020, the City and Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) have been working around the clock to restore travel across the Duwamish and mitigate associated traffic impacts. The closure continues to be of the highest priority as the bridge is a lifeline to the local and regional transportation network, and directly impacts critical maritime and freight industries.

“Our cities are facing a series of unprecedented crises, including rising COVID-19 cases and a significant economic crisis. At the same time, residents, workers, and businesses have been deeply impacted by the closure of the West Seattle Bridge – the City’s busiest bridge. As SDOT continues to mitigate traffic impacts and stabilize the bridge while evaluating repair and replace options, this emergency proclamation will give Seattle the tools we need to expedite permitting and procurement, and strengthen our efforts to receive state and federal funding,” said Mayor Durkan.  

This act by Mayor Durkan will enable four essential actions: 

  • Strengthen funding efforts and flexibility at all levels of government; 
  • Enable critical actions around the High-Rise Bridge—no matter what repair or replacement path is selected—through streamlined permitting, materials and contract procurement; 
  • Support West Seattle Low Bridge precautionary strengthening work; and 
  • Support implementation of mitigation measures in the greater Duwamish Valley communities impacted by changed travel patterns while the High-Rise Bridge is closed 

The emergency proclamation recognizes that the high-rise closure is a long-term emergency that will continue to evolve as the City plans for infrastructure repairs, investment, and multimodal mitigations. The proclamation also includes Mayor Durkan and SDOT’s continued commitment to transparency through regular reporting to the public.  

“Safely restoring travel capacity across the Duwamish continues to be of the highest priority at SDOT. As we continue to work with the speed and urgency this crisis deserves, I applaud Mayor Durkan’s proclamation today declaring the closure of the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge a City emergency to bolster our efforts. This is a marathon at sprint pace, and this emergency proclamation elevates efforts to secure the resources and broader state and federal support needed to sustain these efforts for as long as it takes to deliver the best possible outcomes for West Seattle and the surrounding communities,” said Sam Zimbabwe, SDOT Director. 

Just this week, the West Seattle Bridge Technical Advisory Panel (TAP), which is an independent advisory committee made up of bridge engineers and experts from across the country assembled by SDOT to guide, inform and review efforts to repair or replace the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge, released an official statement indicating that the information they have reviewed indicates repairs are not infeasible and recommending the continued exploration of a repair option along with various replacement options. 

This statement aligns with SDOT’s recent analysis indicating that repairing the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge is possible, and affirms an important milestone that marks the end of review about whether repair is possible, and the rapid transition to the critical question of whether repair of the High-Rise Bridge is advisable, relative to other replacement options available. This is a long-term emergency and the emergency proclamation is necessary to expedite progress and mitigate impacts to users, the city, and regional economy. 

The emergency proclamation comes at a critical moment when the Mayor and SDOT are elevating ongoing conversations with federal partners and other elected leaders about securing the funding needed to build the best possible outcome for West Seattle and surrounding communities.  Last week, SDOT outlined what state and federal funding opportunities could look like. Issued in tandem with those conversations, the emergency proclamation demonstrates urgency when pursuing these opportunities. It also makes clear that this is a crisis with impacts that reverberate across all of Seattle, the region, and the state with immediate impacts and lasting consequence if we are not able to move quickly.  

“We urgently need a regional approach for the replacement of the West Seattle Bridge.  Tens of thousands of family-wage jobs depend on the movement of goods in the busiest freight corridor in the state, which is also adjacent to our largest investment—the Terminal 5 container handling facility.”  — Peter Steinbrueck, Port of Seattle Commission President, Co-Chair of The Northwest Seaport Alliance. 

“The Mayoral Proclamation of Civil Emergency tells the rest of the City and the region that the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge closure is a life-impacting event of epic proportion for thousands of people, and that it is not business as usual in West Seattle until the bridge connection is restored. I thank Mayor Durkan for acknowledging the reality of the emergency situation and signing this important document. I urge the City’s partners to think outside of the box as they support the City in this emergency. Thank You Mayor Durkan.” Deb Barker, West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force Member 

SDOT recently announced an ongoing body of precautionary work to ensure the West Seattle Low Bridge can continue to play the outsized role asked of it by the long-term closure of the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge. The Low Bridge is now an essential component of the West Seattle transportation network that keeps freight, emergency vehicles, and transit moving on and off the peninsula. Using this new authority, SDOT is expediting critical strengthening measures for the Low Bridge, ensuring that rapid action helps this tiny but mighty bridge play its newly elevated, essential role.  

The closure of the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge continues to be a daily, acute challenge for those who once relied on the bridge to commute to work, school, medical appointments, and many other daily needs. The changed travel patterns have already begun to affect communities on both sides of the Duwamish, and our Reconnect West Seattle efforts – a framework to restore similar levels of travel across the Duwamish to those seen before the High-Rise Bridge closure while reducing the environmental injustices for communities most acutely impacted by detour traffic – will be critical for managing the multimodal transportation network.  

Additionally, for maritime and freight industries that operate near the Low and High-Rise Bridges, these challenges pose an existential threat if not resolved quickly or in a manner that preserves Mariner access through the Duwamish Channel. These industries support tens of thousands of jobs along the Duwamish River and across Harbor Island, as well as the critical supply chain to Alaska, Hawaii, and across the globe. 

While the City is taking these actions today, West Seattle and the surrounding communities can also take action right now to make their voices heard and drive the right solutions forward. On July 10, SDOT launched two opportunities for community members to tell us what they need to move on and off the West Seattle peninsula and improve safety and traffic outcomes in communities along the detour routes:  

  • Reconnect West Seattle Survey – This survey is a chance for everyone living in West Seattle to let the SDOT and our transit partners know what will help change the way they travel to and from the West Seattle peninsula.  
  • Neighborhood Prioritization Ballots – These ballots are an opportunity for people who live in Roxhill, Highland Park, Riverview, South Delridge, SODO, Georgetown, or South Park to identify the projects that would be most helpful at this time to improve safety and traffic outcomes in their neighborhood.  

The survey and ballots will be open from July 10 – July 31 and available in multiple languages. Paper ballots and surveys are available upon request.