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Dec. 18, 2009

South Park Bridge ‘shovel ready’

Final review completed, county ready to go to bid if federal funds approved

Federal, state, and King County officials gathered today alongside the crumbling South Park Bridge to mark the completion of the lengthy environmental review needed to replace the bridge. This last step signals that the county is ready to start construction on a new bridge next spring, if federal funding for the project is approved.

First photo is Harold Taniguchi, Dan Mathis & Kathleen Davis actually signing off on the EIS.
The final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project was signed by (from left): Harold Taniguchi, King County Department of Transportation; Dan Mathis, Federal Highway Administration; and Kathleen Davis, Washington State Department of Transportation.
“Completion of this environmental study means the South Park Bridge is now ‘shovel ready,’” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “This bridge is a critical part of our transportation infrastructure and is exactly the type of project we should be addressing with federal stimulus dollars.”

Constantine said the South Park Bridge supports the movement of freight, port access, and job creation. He said it is also a vital transportation link serving working class neighborhoods. The Executive said he is increasingly hopeful that King County is well positioned to receive federal funding thanks to the hard work of Sen. Patty Murray and the state’s congressional delegation.

In September, King County submitted an application for a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The county and its project partners are requesting $99 million toward the replacement cost of the bridge. Just last Sunday, Congress expanded the amount of grant money available to rebuild infrastructure and create new jobs, which may make a federal investment in the South Park Bridge even more attractive. The grants will be awarded early next year.

“If we receive the TIGER grant, we can go out to bid this February, start construction in the spring, and have the new bridge built in two years,” said King County Road Services Director Linda Dougherty. “We have all the pieces in place to have the bridge open to traffic in early 2012.”

The 78-year-old South Park Bridge spans the Duwamish River and is located on 14th/16 Avenue South. It is a key transportation asset that serves the some of the largest manufacturing/industrial centers in the Northwest, including an international seaport and aviation hub.

A regional economic analysis done for the project estimates there will be more than 125 direct jobs created for construction of the new bridge, and another 500 new jobs throughout the state indirectly connected to the project.

The final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project was signed today by Harold Taniguchi, director of the King County Department of Transportation; Dan Mathis, Washington division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration; and Kathleen Davis, director of Highways and Local Programs for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). FHWA is the key federal agency responsible for overseeing the environmental process. WSDOT has helped King County gain the necessary state and federal approvals for this project.

“This project is located in the middle of the Pacific Northwest’s largest manufacturing and industrial area and is the lowest-rated, high-traffic bridge in the state of Washington,” said Mathis. “The Federal Highway Administration is pleased with the readiness of this project and hopes that funding for construction can be secured.  It is an important part of this region’s transportation infrastructure.”

The EIS has been eight years in the making, and included studying five new bridge alternatives – each requiring extensive environmental scrutiny and thorough coordination with multiple agencies and the surrounding community. The EIS finalized today highlights a drawbridge as the preferred alternative, which was the overwhelming choice of the partner agencies and the local community.

“It has taken the analysis, innovation and efforts of many to meet the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements related to the replacement of the South Park Bridge,” said Davis. “By signing the environmental impact statement today, I am confident that King County has done its job in complying with NEPA.  We look forward to assisting the County in building a new South Park Bridge.”

If the federal funding is received, the county will build the new drawbridge parallel to the existing bridge over the next two years and the existing bridge will be demolished in the third year.

The bridge borders the cities of Seattle and Tukwila along with neighborhoods in unincorporated King County. Because it straddles multiple jurisdictions and a replacement bridge is such a costly project, it has been difficult to secure funding. Executive Constantine has been a champion of replacing the bridge for many years, and has worked with other elected officials to find a funding solution.

Studies of the South Park Bridge show that the condition of the span is severely deteriorated and was made worse during the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake. There is widespread steel corrosion on the main spans, crumbling concrete piers, and an outdated electrical control system. The bridge has become increasingly difficult to maintain and repair, resulting in frequent bridge closures that disrupt both vehicle and marine traffic.

In 2002, King County inspectors gave the bridge a sufficiency rating of 6 out of a possible 100, per Federal Highway Administration criteria. This rating has since fallen to 4.

The current bridge is used by approximately 20,000 vehicles a day, and has a moveable span that opens to accommodate large marine vessels on the river. It is one of the few Duwamish River crossings for residents of South Park, White Center, Boulevard Park and other lower-income neighborhoods that depend on the bridge for access to job centers on the east side of the river.

In addition, it is located in the middle of an industrial area that supports an estimated 70,000 good-paying jobs. The city of Tukwila, the Boeing Company, and the Port of Seattle are all financial partners in the project.

For more information about the South Park Bridge project, including videotaped comments of support from community members, visit the project website.

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