Suppose you live in a beautiful city on the Puget Sound, which has a lovely elevated promenade along the waterfront where residents and visitors alike go for walks. The promenade is paved, wide enough, and provides benches so that everybody, including those with mobility challenges, can enjoy it. They listen to the waves, hear the birds, and enjoy the sunsets. Sometimes they even spot seals. Below this promenade is a lovely beach with a marine park. One can hear children playing and laughing on the beach. The Marine Park is unique and attracts out of-state visitors. These are the crown jewels of the city.
Now suppose the city wants to build a bridge in the middle of the promenade. This bridge will disrupt pedestrian traffic, partially block the views of the mountains, and increase automobile traffic. You might shake your head and wonder, why would they even think of constructing this bridge, especially in this location?
You might receive several answers. They will tell you that the bridge is needed because the train traffic between the beach and the city has increased and the city needs to connect the waterfront with downtown over the train tracks. Or, the bridge is needed because ferry passengers might have a medical problem and they will need to be evacuated while the train tracks are blocked. And if you persist, you will be told that this has already been decided with a lot of public input.
But as an individual who loves the city, you might continue to wonder if the proposed solution is the correct one? Is this the wise use of public money? Is this our problem to solve? Will it destroy the crown jewels of the city? Do we need this type of a bridge, in this location?
Let us examine the stated rationale for the bridge. Let us start with the need to connect the waterfront with downtown. After all, the city is also investing in the Waterfront Activity Center. But is city the only interested party that wants this connectivity? What about the Port of Edmonds? It has substantial commercial interest in ensuring the connectivity. There are lovely restaurants on the property the port owns. So why is the Port not taking the lead?
The ferry system is operated by the Washington State Ferries. The ferry terminal is connected by a state highway 104 to I-5. Thus, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is responsible for ensuring that ferry passengers are not stranded if the train tracks are blocked. Consequently, WSDOT needs to find a solution. Why is the city involved in it? Tomorrow if the Puget Sound has to be dredged so that ships can move freely, would the city pick up the tab?
So, is there an alternative way to connect the downtown with the waterfront and provide medical emergency services?
Sure, think of a modest pedestrian bridge away from Brackett’s Landing. Perhaps the Port and the City team up and construct a bridge near Harbor Square. This covered bridge could have elevators and escalators; if medical personnel need to reach the ferry, they can use it. If there are trains on the track, then waterfront visitors could use the bridge and enjoy the beautiful waterfront amenities. Same with senior citizens.
The bridge proponents have another defense. They recognize the huge cost of the bridge — $30 million! They will say that we will get most of the money from the state and the feds (I’m sure you have heard this before. Politicians never tell the true cost upfront — be it Vietnam or the Alaska Viaduct. Slowly, as more money is spent, we get locked in). The city is headed in that direction. It has already spent thousands of dollars on consultants. Ironically, it seems to run out of funds for homeless shelters and cannot renovate the embarrassing restrooms at Brackett’s Landing.
Suppose Edmonds spends only $5 million and received $25 million from “outside.” Last we checked, the State of Washington was “our” state, and the same with the federal government. Eventually, we will pick up the tab — whether as city, state or federal taxpayers.
In his State of the City address on Feb. 2, Mayor Earling challenged Edmonds residents to “leave it better than you found it” by building a bridge to the future. Lovely words, but is this really what the Mayor means? Edmonds wants to build a bridge to nowhere that lacks economic rationale, wastes public money, destroys its crown jewels, and leaves the city worse than what we found it.
Remember how Senator Ted Stevens and Congressman Don Young earmarked $200 million in federal money for a bridge between Ketchikan and the Gravina Island airport? This drew outrage and became a symbol of the dysfunctionality of Congressional politics. Interestingly, Alaska has abandoned this project and is going back to a ferry system to connect Ketchicak with the airport.
Our fear is that the City of Edmonds is becoming another example of this sort of wasteful use of public resource. Alaska had the wisdom to abandon its bridge. Will the City of Edmonds display this wisdom as well?
— By Nives Dolšak & Aseem Prakash
Nives Dolšak, an Edmonds resident, is professor and associate director, School of Marine and Environmental Affairs at the University of Washington.
Aseem Prakash, an Edmonds resident, is professor of political science and the Walker family professor for the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Founding Director of the Center for Environmental Politics at the University of Washington.