The Seattle Department of Transportation plans to have a preferred alternative identified later this year to replace the functional needs served by the existing Magnolia Bridge.

But the completion of the planning study funded by the 2015 Move Seattle Levy does not mean the near-term demise of the current structure, contrary to some public speculation.

“We’re really working to do our due diligence to present what are more cost feasible options, with the understanding that the bridge is safe, we’re maintaining the bridge, and that’s a top priority for the city,” said project manager Wes Ducey in a conversation with the Queen Anne & Magnolia News last week. “But we’re also trying to be proactive and really seek out ways to ensure our mobility and access through looking at these alternative, more fundable components.”

That issue of funding looms large in talks regarding the bridge’s future. Though cost estimates for the alternatives now under consideration will be determined in the latest round of analysis, SDOT already has a price tag for an in-kind replacement: $350 to $400 million. That figure is based off the $262 million estimate of the 30-percent design conducted more than a decade ago, after the Nisqually Earthquake kicked-off the last replacement planning process. And to that end, such a project has not shown to be eligible for state and federal grants, Ducey said.

The project manager also noted that it’s difficult to put a number on the remaining lifespan for the almost 90-year-old structure, but said that SDOT inspects the bridge annually (at a minimum), with gauges actively monitoring it 24/7.

“We’re continuing to maintain the structure, but also acknowledging that maintenance increases in cost every year,” Ducey said.

The department has already completed an emergency and short-term traffic maintenance plan should an unplanned event close the bridge, but is now trying to address the long-term mobility needs of the neighborhood with the planning study. 

After an initial screening and technical screening of components, SDOT is now considering three alternatives.

Only one of the three options adds a new crossing over the railroad tracks, with an elevated bridge along Armory Way West connecting Thorndyke Avenue West to 15th Avenue West. In that plan — Alternative I — improvements would also be made to Thorndyke and 20th Avenue West, and a new “West Uplands Perimeter Road” would follow the alignment of the existing Elliott Bay Trail to provide direct access to the Elliott Bay Marina and Smith Cove. A segment of the existing Magnolia Bridge to Alaskan Way would be maintained to provide access to Terminal 91 and the planned Expedia headquarters.

That portion of the bridge would also be maintained in Alternative II, along with the addition of a West Uplands Perimeter Road and improvements at 20th Avenue West. But instead of a new elevated structure, improvements would be made along West Dravus Street from 15th to 20th Avenue West, widening the roadway and existing bridge.

In Alternative III, those upgrades at Dravus Street would be paired with a rebuilt Magnolia Bridge from the point it crosses 15th Avenue West — over the railroad tracks — to where it crosses of the center of the Port of Seattle’s north-south access road. Ramps would be extended down to 23rd Avenue West, providing access to the marina and Smith Cove.

The expansion of capacity at Dravus is a concept Ducey said was shown in the original replacement study, but didn’t receive much analysis at the time.

“It wasn’t an alignment that was investigated further, and we feel like it’s an opportunity to look at something that may be more fundable and another one that could be implemented in phases,” he said.

The three alternatives will now be analyzed via several mobility and connectivity metrics — including how well they provide freight, transit, and vehicular access — along with implementation characteristics including cost, construction phasing and duration, and public support.

The current Magnolia Bridge serves approximately 17,000 vehicles per day, the lowest of the three major neighborhood connection routes. The West Dravus Street Bridge sees about 20,000 cars, and the Emerson Street Bridge around 25,000.

The public will also have the chance to weigh-in on the plans, with an online open house planned for mid-June. Ducey said he’ll be conducting drop-in sessions as well, providing opportunities for one-on-one conversations with members of the community.

That process will be followed by presentations to SDOT’s internal executive team, along with the mayor’s office and city councilmembers, to summarize the analysis, and public input, and recommend a preferred alternative.

That evaluation effort and their findings will be the subject of further public outreach in the fall.

In the meantime, the Magnolia Bridge isn’t going anywhere.

“We just want to reiterate that we’re ensuring the safety of our existing infrastructure, and are only looking to decommission it should the design and construction — really the construction — of a component from one of our alternatives be in direct conflict with that bridge,” Ducey said.

For more information on the Magnolia Bridge Planning Study, visit www.seattle.gov/transportation/magnoliabridgeplanning. For questions, contact Ducey at wes.ducey@seattle.gov.   

Magnolia Bridge Planning Study — May 1 Stakeholder Meeting by QueenAnneMagnoliaNews on Scribd