The Magnolia Bridge and Galer Street Flyover, pictured in the mid-2000s. Photo courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives
The Magnolia Bridge and Galer Street Flyover, pictured in the mid-2000s. Photo courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives

The days are numbered for the Magnolia Bridge.

And despite well over a decade of stops and starts in the process to develop and build a permanent alternative, the city hopes to have a preferred concept in place sometime this year.

What’s already clear, though, is an in-kind replacement of the structure isn’t on the table, with a price tag in the range of $350 to 400 million.

“It’s just not feasible to get the funding to build it,” said Lisa Reid with SCJ Alliance, the consulting company working with the Seattle Department of Transportation on the Magnolia Bridge Planning Study.

Reid, Marni Heffron with Heffron Transportation, and project manager Wes Ducey with SDOT appeared at last Tuesday’s Magnolia Community Council meeting to provide an update on their efforts.

With the construction of a similar structure to the current bridge not under consideration, SDOT is looking at a combination of piecemeal solutions to provide safe, reliable access to and from Magnolia, while maintaining connections to the Smith Cove waterfront, Terminal 91, Magnolia Village, and the 15th Avenue West corridor.

“Instead of looking at a whole range of alternatives that includes a lot of different parts, we’ve broken it up into small pieces,” Reid said.

This work is part of the third phase of the planning study — funded by the Move Seattle levy passed by voters in 2015 — after the completion of both the emergency and short-term plans last year. Currently, the Magnolia Bridge serves more than 15,000 vehicles per day, the lowest of the three major neighborhood connection routes, as studied in March and April of last year.  

Of the nine components being evaluated — some of which could stand independently, while others would need to be combined to function as a solution — four address the need to cross the BNSF tracks.

Two of those make use preexisting options, one calling for upgrades along Dravus Street, and the other retaining the seismically sound eastern segment of the Magnolia Bridge. The other two call for the construction of new bridges, one at Wheeler Street, the other at Armory Way. Either of those options could then work in tandem with a connector to provide access to Port property, the Elliott Bay Marina, and Smith Cove.

Also presented as an component is a new roadway on the Magnolia side of the railroad tracks — parallel to the existing Elliott Bay Trail — which could then link to either new bridge option. Meanwhile, the “East Uplands Perimeter Road,” component would improve and open an existing private Port road, and connect to the standing segment of the current Magnolia Bridge.

These options are the ones that passed through the “Fatal Flaw Screening” that the replacement option did not, failing to meet the financial feasibility criteria. A parallel bridge to the south of the current structure was the choice to come out of a replacement plan process that started in 2002 after the Nisqually Earthquake, but the city was unable to find the funding to complete the design or begin construction.

Now, the remaining components are being evaluated via a technical screening, which includes the traffic operational need and geometric feasibility of potential construction, to further cull the options.

“How many cars need to make that left turn to come up to Magnolia?” Reid said. “How many cars need to make a right turn on that access point from Magnolia?”

Ducey cautioned that even though these components are the ones made it through the initial screening, that doesn’t yet mean they will end up being feasible options.

“They have their issues, and there’ll be other opportunities as well to give more input on alternatives that will make a little bit more sense to dig into,” he said.

Once the technical screening is complete, the remaining viable components will be combined into full alternatives, at which point cost estimates will be made alongside the evaluation of various traffic metrics and other factors to determine a preferred option. An online survey will be conducted to collect community input on the alternatives, and public outreach will follow the selection of the preferred scheme.

But officials say they’re well aware that time is running out before the bridge is no longer safe for vehicle traffic, whether there’s a replacement ready or not.

“It is very near the end of its practical life,” Heffron said. “It has a patchwork of Band-Aids on it,”

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Magnolia Bridge Planning Study Presentation — March 20 by QueenAnneMagnoliaNews on Scribd