Washington 36th District Rep. Gael Tarleton told the Magnolia Community Council it’s essential to start planning and designing a replacement for the Magnolia Bridge, instead of simply studying alternatives — including possibly not replacing it.

She said the Legislature focuses on long-term investments, while it seems the city is focused on immediate policy issues.

“It is extremely difficult to get local governments focused on long-term investments. It’s tough to get a list of priorities,” Tarleton said. “We have a prioritized project list for mobility.”

She compared the undefined Magnolia Bridge project to replacing the 14th Avenue South Bridge. She noted that bridge was totally owned by the city (of Tukwila) and the county, and both parties started planning its replacement the day they were going to close it.

“But no one from the city showed up to talk with us about plans to replace the Magnolia Bridge. We’ve been talking about it for 18 years [since the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake],” Tarleton said. “There’s still not a capital projects plan to replace the Magnolia Bridge.”

Tarleton said the Legislature appropriated $750,000 to start planning a replacement for the Magnolia Bridge this year. She hopes to use the state funding to convene a group that will actually design a bridge replacement.

Tarleton added the issue is far greater than affording access to the Magnolia neighborhood. The 15th Avenue Corridor is the alternate route for freight traffic from northern Seattle and Ballard to the Port of Seattle and the Duwamish River. If a mishap closes Interstate 5 or State Route 99, traffic has to be able to move on 15th.

She noted some truck freight will have to move through the 15th Avenue Corridor because the State Route 99 tunnel can’t handle hazardous chemicals.

“Fifteenth is crucial for transportation, but the city never seems to have viewed it essential. The city only sees it as a connector to neighborhoods, as a residential corridor,” Tarleton said. “The Magnolia and Ballard bridges have to be planned in concert, and we need to work with Sound Transit on their line,” she said. “The state has a direct stake in both bridges because Sound Transit is funded in part by the state.”

She added while local government does have total control over zoning, the state has an interest in overall land use and transportation issues through the Growth Management Act. Tarleton showed the council a detailed Ballard Interbay North End Manufacturing and Industrial Center chart showing how important the 15th Avenue Corridor is for connecting different parts of the city and moving freight through Seattle.

“That is why the complexity of the Interbay is so tough,” Tarleton said. “But the city doesn’t have a plan for industrial land, and the state doesn’t have one either. It matters to have a plan to build the bridge.”

Those attending the community council meeting noted that 15th is already gridlocked every morning, and the backup extends all the way across the Ballard Bridge to NW 65th Street. If the existing Magnolia Bridge is taken down, studies projected it would take more than an hour to drive out of Magnolia via the Dravus Street Overpass.

“We have so many stakeholders, but it seems that the state is the adult in the room, compared to the city,” said MCC president Lynn Hogan. “We need to match and incentivize the city to plan for the replacement.”

Community council members also wondered about the cost of replacing the Magnolia Bridge. Tarleton noted that the current Lander Street overpass of the BNSF tracks had been a high priority for the Port of Seattle for years without the city investing money, but it is now being financed through federal matches and port funds. There was also WSDOT funding, and then Move Seattle levy monies added to the project.

She said the South Park Bridge replacement is the model for funding, also with federal matches. Community council members also suggested looking into a local improvement district, which would tax adjacent property owners to pay for the bridge.

Tarleton said the Magnolia and Ballard bridges need to be replaced within 10 to 15 years — the same timeline for Sound Transit’s Ballard extension through Interbay. But other community council members are concerned about getting the tracks for the line off of 15th Avenue West.

“It is my understanding that the port and the community have pretty significant involvement in getting the tracks built west of 15th — and on the ground,” Tarleton said. “We can’t pump out people fast enough to keep up with the demand for transportation.”

She noted that when the transit line is opened, almost one-third more people will live in high rises in South Lake Union and the Interbay Corridor.”

Other community council members shared the sentiment that it is time to draw up plans to replace the bridge instead of just talking about it.

“We’re twisting ourselves into knots,” Libby Stevenson said. “Right now, we have a bunch of civil engineers who don’t want to build a bridge, and I’m requesting some Magnolia representation.”

Tarleton shared her concerns and pointed to another chokepoint in progress.

“I’ve been living in Ballard since 1990, and we’ve been fighting about the Burke-Gilman Trail,” she said. “Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on legal fees, and both sides are not able to move beyond the discussion stage. We’re not going to do another study [of the Magnolia Bridge] replacement.”

Tarleton said the city also needs a plan to rebuild Western Avenue to Sodo — and wondered what would happen if everyone looked at the corridor’s needs.

“Why not, instead of taking individual parts, one at a time. What a cool thing we could do,” she said. “It would put Seattle on the map for 100 years.”