Not when they can build flashy new infrastructure. Seattle must prioritize bridge maintenance and basic infrastructure. And even especially if that new stuff has a patina of “green.”
Seattle was flying high before COVID-19 struck. Jobs. Tax revenue. But they couldn’t be bothered to spend money on maintaining bridges and piers. They had better things to spend money on.
In the spring, The West Seattle Bridge was closed due to excessive cracking. That should have been a wake-up call, but it wasn’t.
On September 13th Pier 58 in Seattle partially collapsed. Surveillance video taken from neighboring Seattle Aquarium shows the moment Pier 58 partially collapsed into Elliott Bay on Sunday, September 13, 2020, injuring two. Additional videos will autoplay after the first video completes.
As a result of that collapse, the city closed Pier 57, which is a waterfront destination with a large Ferris Wheel.
Lack of money isn’t an excuse. Seattle’s budget grew 37% since 2015. Voters also approved a $930 million transportation levy in 2015, around 45% of which was for maintenance.
That levy was a red flag, however. It highlighted how City Hall was putting less emphasis on maintenance — the previous levy was 67% for maintenance — and opting to spend more on other things, including bike and bus lanes.
I don’t want to debate the merits of bike lanes, but the city spent money on foot rests for cyclists. And then there is the streetcar. What explains Seattle’s streetcar fixation? Look at who really benefits. That article is from Jan 2019, Pre-COVID-19, which probably makes the point even more effectively.
Because streetcars, no matter how lovable, are slow and inflexible. They’re not mass transit (at least how we run them here). There’s proof of this in studies, as well as from underperforming lines all over the country. But most crucially the proof is right here under our noses.
Since 2007 we’ve been running street cars in Seattle. They have consistently cost more than predicted, and carried far fewer riders than expected. Most importantly, they’re failures as transit by the city’s own data.
For mass transit to make sense, it has to be on its own right-of-way. Someplace like Seattle, that means elevated trains or subways. Both of which are even more expensive than streetcars.
But hey, if we build more of them, that will make it better. Right? Or maybe not.
This past week the Seattle mayor decided to revive our most dubious transportation network, even though building a 1.2-mile connecting trolley link along First Avenue downtown is now projected to cost $286 million — a 100 percent cost overrun.
Because streetcars are green, even if no one uses them.
As for that wake-up call, better late than never I guess. As a result of the Pier Collapse an audit was undertaken of the city’s infrastructure.
This should be a wake-up call for officials who weren’t jolted enough by the West Seattle Bridge failure to reassess spending priorities. Problems the audit identifies weren’t caused by unanticipated concrete failures, but by deliberate decisions to skimp on maintenance and avoid dealing with deteriorating bridges.
The complete audit document can be found at the following link. Seattle Department of Transportation: Strategic Approach to Vehicle Bridge Maintenance is Warranted.
One of the points highlighted in the summary is worth repeating here.
Over the past 14 years, the average amount SDOT spent on bridge maintenance was $6.6 million annually.
Seattle spent $246 million on small expansion of the streetcar system, and $92.4 million maintaining the bridges in the city. Borrowing from Ronald Weasly, they need to sort out their priorities.