Commentary: The Bridge To Nowhere – not in Alaska but in lovely Edmonds

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Aseem Prakash
Nives Dolšak

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.

 

21 Replies to “Commentary: The Bridge To Nowhere – not in Alaska but in lovely Edmonds”

  1. My impression is that the bridge is only to be used by emergency responders and therefore should not increase traffic. It is not only for ferry passengers who have emergencies but for anyone on the water side of the train tracks in case a train blocks emergency responders on the other roads. The Senior Center and large beach and marina areas plus restaurants are on the far side of the tracks. It’s dangerous for that whole area to be inaccessible during a long, long, train passage several times a day. Am I misinformed?

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    1. You’re completely informed, I’m baffled by this guest commentary. Either the authors are totally misinformed or they have some motivation for spreading these false claims.

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  2. I so clearly remember when a pregnant woman who went into labor had to be moved across the open train car to get aid. So yes, I think this is a very necessary life saving addition to our city. We have to put one person’s life (it could be yours) over another’s desire to watch the sunset. After much discussion, this was deemed the best solution and long overdue. Good for the city council and the mayor for fixing this.

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    1. Groundwater is just a few feet beneath the surface in this area, with the marsh and the sound in very close proximity, not to mention the prospect of rising sea levels.

      If your offer is accepted and you do build a tunnel, you’ll also have secured a job for life trying to keep it dry enough for anyone to use.

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  3. I appreciate the perspective here, though am concerned with some of the potential misunderstandings of what is planned.

    Here is what I understand as the selected preliminary idea for the bridge: https://myedmondsnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Edmonds-Street-Waterfront-Connector-Briefing-Brochure_12-5-16-r2.pdf

    I’m not quite sure how this significantly obscures mountain and sound views with the exception of the guardrail of the bridge itself, or unless you are taking in views from the East side of the parking lot at Bracketts landing.

    As for obscuring views, take a look at slide A-227 featuring the mentioned stairs/elevator overpass in this briefing:(https://www.edmondswa.gov/images/COE/Government/Departments/Public_Works/Public_Works_Projects/Sunset_Ave_Walkway/Edmonds_Waterfront_Access_Study_-_2of2.pdf) during the public open house process. I think you’ll find the chosen solution our local officials and citizens selected is the best solution of the field.

    Is it a perfect solution? No.
    There is no such thing as perfect in the real world. We all make compromises pursuing actual progress over theoretical perfection.

    Is it inexpensive? No. What is today?
    It is my understanding, elevator/stair solution is actually more expensive long term because the research found to provide proper emergency services an aid car would need to be stationed west of the tracks so emergency responders would not have to run from the elevator with their equipment as far as Marina Park and then back to get a person in need into an ambulance.

    Will it go over budget? Most likely.
    Not necessarily due to misrepresentation or deceit, but rather because we plan these projects often 5-15 years prior to when shovels actually start moving, and costs rise. Certainly, there is some misrepresentation or lack of imagination in project planning at times, and we should work to fix it through holding all parties to higher levels of accountability.

    Is doing nothing the best solution? Most likely not.
    At some point, we will have a preventable loss of life or other tragedy on the waterfront caused by lack of emergency vehicle access. Perhaps we can all come together before this happens with open minds, accurate information and a problem solving mentality and actually solve this issue without an underlying tragedy driving the process.

    For my part, I appreciate the thoughtful, transparent process the city and other stakeholders have taken, and continue to take, in the pursuit of a solution. I look forward to the continued progress on this project… and I look forward to a bridge my family can walk and ride bikes on while visiting the waterfront without the concern of crossing train tracks.

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  4. I would appreciate knowing the motivation behind this commentary, given its repeated falsehoods.

    “…the city wants to build a bridge in the middle of the promenade…”
    Untrue.

    “This bridge will disrupt pedestrian traffic…”
    Untrue.

    “…partially block the views of the mountains…”
    Not remotely true unless you’re standing on the train tracks behind one of the pillars that will support the emergency bridge.

    “….increase automobile traffic.”
    False! It’s for emergency use only and bollards will block automobile access at all other times.

    It does not appear that the authors know a single thing about the reason for this bridge or its design plans. What is the intention of providing these false alarms. And quite frankly, given how utterly false these claims are, how does this commentary even get published?

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    1. Everyone has a right to their opinion – that’s why it’s called a commentary. The goal of our website is to stimulate discussion and present a range of viewpoints and perspectives. — Teresa Wippel, publisher

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      1. Thank you for this comment, Teresa.
        This commentary did exactly what it should do, i.e. created many quick responses which reminded us of the emergency needs for crossing over the train. That’s why I love and never miss reading your daily news.
        Madeleine Kaiser

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  5. one more time

    several years ago i repeatedly suggested

    a small – pedestrian/golf cart accommodating bridge could be put at the ferry terminal, utilizing the existing structure

    the golf cart can be kept on the water side to transport whoever needs to be quickly (and quietly) whisked away to a waiting ambulance on the land side and/or first responders on the water side

    the elevators on either side can be enclosed with a staircase for those who wish to walk

    these small bridges have been in use in other places – there’s one in downtown Kent

    i would definitely appreciate some feedback, especially from city personnel, as well as other people

    thank you

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    1. I think the Kent comparison may be apples and oranges. That bridge over the tracks looks intended for commuters to park on one side and travel to and from the train station on the other.

      Ever notice the size of EMT vehicles? They are chock-full of life-support supplies and equipment for critical reasons that are not necessarily easily foreseen. The first person who dies during a golf cart transport will have family lawsuits filed before the body is cold.

      Also, a golf cart won’t do much for a fire, so the best answer in my book remains the planned overpass.

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  6. I see this project as long overdue. My only problem is the cost. $30.000.000 for a one lane overpass? The light rail is costing $179.000.000 per mile. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_rail. That’s with tunneling, raised sections and underground stations. Its touted as the most expensive in the country. How does this even compare? Its what, quarter mile, one lane? Someone is making a lot of money on this one.
    I would really like to see a real breakdown of the actual costs. Was this really the lowest bid?

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    1. The design is still only conceptual at this point, so it’s a good way yet from being put out to bid. I think your energy would be better directed in attending the meeting next week to ask your questions and get a clearer understanding of the project, as Darrol Haug recommends just above your post.

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  7. What we need to do is build a bridge from here to Lynnwood to get rid of the traffic. I’ve lived in Edmonds for over 30 years and I can’t believe how many cars there are now. The traffic on the freeways is nothing compared to what will be on that bridge. I don’t care how many millions, we need a bridge. If you want to see the sunset, go to mukilteo.

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  8. From what I recall reading, the proposed bridge/overpass is only intended to be used in emergency situations, so won’t be available for everyday traffic. It’s only to allow access to/from the water side in the event that there’s a blockage, i.e., train, across the streets normally used.

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    1. Almost totally true. I think the plan contemplates allowing the first ferry arriving to off load and then the next ferry would have to go somewhere else. I do not recall if the first ferry would be allowed to load before it left or if it would have to leave empty.

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  9. Build an urgent care facility where the spray painted graffiti sprawled upon boarded up building is on the waterfront by the parking lot with helipad on top to transport critical patients and include two ambulances for non-critical transfer to local hospitals or to this urgent care facility. See…wasn’t that simple?!

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