Councilmember Pedersen follows through on the audit he ordered on Seattle’s Bridges — need more investments in our bridges for safety, regional economy.

Councilmember Pedersen viewing the seismic retrofit of the 15th Ave NE bridge connecting Roosevelt and the U District at Cowen Park in District 4.

NOTE: This blog post focuses on the audit of Seattle bridges I ordered in the wake of the safety closure of the West Seattle Bridge in March 2020.

  • For more about the West Seattle Bridge, CLICK HERE.
  • For more about the funding needs and opportunities for Seattle bridges including the $100 million in bridge safety bonds rebuffed by SDOT, CLICK HERE.
  • For the ability to tap Transportation Impact Fees as a source or revenue, if City Hall can muster the political courage, CLICK HERE.

December 5, 2023 UPDATE: SDOT Presents Its Progress on 2020 Bridge Audit Recommendations

I asked our Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to provide another update on their progress implementing the bridge audit that I ordered in 2020. For SDOT’s presentation on its progress, CLICK HERE.

The bottom-line is that SDOT is still behind on completing its Bridge Asset Management Plan and yet asset management plans should be foundational documents driving what the invest in for the next transportation capital package, as the 9-year, $930 million “Move Seattle” levy expires at the end of 2024. SDOT already has a draft list of “shiny new objects” it wants via their “Seattle Transportation Plan,” (which synthesizes the former modal plans along with other new proposals for capital projects and serves as the “transportation element” of the upcoming Comp Plan update). But, as usual, maintenance continues to take a back seat despite the Biden Administration’s priority to “Fix It First.” The next City Council will need to stand firm against the interest groups seeking new and expensive transportation projects that serve small slivers of Seattle rather than fixing the basics of the bridges that serve everyone, connect our communities, and keep our economy moving.

November 21, 2023 UPDATE: Council Approves Pedersen Amendment to Increase Bridge Maintenance Funding.

As part of the City Council’s revisions to the Harrell Administration’s proposed budget for 2024, the City Council approved my amendment to increase bridge maintenance investments to the minimum level recommended by the audit that I ordered on Seattle’s bridges in 2020. Sadly, the underfunding of our City-owned bridges by our city government continues, in large part, because there is no interest group that advocates for bridges and there’s no media fanfare or ribbon-cutting when politicians fix a bridge.

GOAL:  Better Bridges + School Traffic Safety (paid for by right-sizing taxpayer contribution to city government pensions): 

Amendment 1 to Resolution 32114: “Use actuarially derived rate of 15.17 percent for City’s employer contribution to City employee’s retirement system in 2024” (instead of the higher-than-required 15.82 percent or 16.22 percent).

SDOT-101-A-3: “Add $1.5 million GF and $80,000 Real Estate Excise Tax to SDOT’s Structures Major Maintenance CIP project (BRIDGES!); and add $480,000 GF to SDOT for expansion of the School Zone Camera program; reduce contribution to the Seattle City Employees’ Retirement System to the actuarial rate.”
Amendment 1 of Reso 32114:
Pedersen (sponsor), Herbold, Lewis, Morales, NelsonJuarez, Mosqueda, Sawant, Strauss  none
SDOT-101-A: PassedPedersen (sponsor), Herbold, Lewis, Morales, NelsonJuarez, Mosqueda, SawantStrauss
Comments:   We achieved abudget trifecta” when a majority of City Council approved my amendments to honor the experts in boosting safety through infrastructure. We (1) increased bridge maintenance to the bare minimum recommended by the City Auditor’s bridge audit that I requested from 2020; (2) kickstarted our plan to have City Hall double the school zone traffic safety enforcement cameras; and (3) paid for those investments by using the professional actuary’s recommendation to avoid excess taxpayer contributions to the City government employee retirement fund (while still staying on track to meet our funding obligations for that retirement fund).

Kudos to the budget lead on my team Hannah Thoreson and to our City Council’s Central Staff for making these complex budget pieces all work together – to find savings to increase these two safety measures.

The key vote on my Amendment 1 on November 14, 2023 to “right-size” the taxpayer contribution to the Seattle City Employees Retirement System (SCERS) as authorized by Resolution 32114 was firmly supported by the Central Staff memo from October 11, 2023.  The Central Staff memo confirmed the sustainability of the retirement fund with the 15.17% contribution from management (the taxpayers): “since the actuarially derived rate is the rate determined sufficient to meet the plan’s future funding objectives, the City retirement system would remain on course to meet 100 percent funded status...”

November 29, 2022: Boost for Bridge Funding Approved

Here is an excerpt from our e-newsletter:

recent poll confirmed that “maintaining bridges and infrastructure” remains a top concern for Seattle residents. Our City Auditor recommends investing a range of $34 million to $102 million annually just to maintain Seattle’s aging bridges, but year after year, we have short-changed this vital infrastructure by funding much less than $34 million. There are several budget line items deemed by our City Auditor as “bridge maintenance.”

Unfortunately, as proposed by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), the original budget failed to provide an overall increase in those bridge maintenance items. That was hugely disappointing and perplexing considering SDOT had earlier rejected the $100 million in bonds that we authorized for bridge safety. To make matters worse, an amendment advanced by the Budget Chair (SDOT-909-A-002-2023) moved the City in the wrong direction by reducing by $3.2 million from one of those bridge maintenance line items requested by SDOT (preventing rust, water intrusion, and other damage from adverse weather with protective “bridge painting.”). With the 2 ½ year shutdown of the West Seattle Bridge, other bridges getting stuck, and the disturbing audit I ordered in 2020 showing our bridges in bad condition, it’s clear we need to invest more now.

Therefore, I put forward several proposals that would add up to at least the minimum annual investment recommended by the Auditor — a sensible downpayment toward addressing this vital infrastructure need. In addition to my amendment to use half of the funds generated in the future from the $10 increase in the Vehicle License Fee (VLF) for bridge maintenance, I put forward an amendment to temporarily tap our Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) to benefit multimodal bridges (carrying buses). It will tap the dollars authorized for the capital projects category as well as deploy unused reserves currently sitting dormant in the STBD account. The City’s capital projects category can be increased, in part, because other levels of government are paying now for the “free” youth fares. As transit ridership increases after 2023, the temporary boost to the capital category can become available again for additional transit service hours. In the meantime, overdue bridge maintenance projects (including for our District’s aging University Bridge) can improve the safety, speed, and reliability of clean, public mass transit. When a bridge breaks or closes or malfunctions, the speed and reliability of transit relying on that bridge drops to zero. No bridge, no bus.

I appreciate that a majority of my colleagues recognized this need and approving the resources to care for Seattle’s aging multimodal bridges. Residents, businesses, and workers expect City Hall to keep Seattle’s aging bridges open and safe to keep our communities connected and our economy moving. Now, once again, we need SDOT to follow-through and spend those funds to fix our bridges.  (SDOT-502-C-001-2023 for an increase of $12 million for bridges successfully replaced SDOT-502-B-001-2023 for an increase of $3.5 million) PASSED!  

(Thanks also to the transfer of Parking Enforcement Officers (PEOs) back to SPD, which saves money to redeploy to other priorities — including nearly $1 million more toward bridge maintenance.)

More Info:

  • For the agenda of the big meeting of Budget Committee amendments on November 21, 2022, CLICK HERE. To watch that video, CLICK HERE for Part 1 and CLICK HERE for Part 2. For my comments in favor of the big boost for bridge funding from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (SDOT-502-C-001-2023), go to minute 2:16:30 of Part 2. The vote for SDOT-502-C-001-2023 happened in two steps:
    • (1) Voting in favor of my motion to replace the $3.5 million proposed increase with my bigger ($12 million) increase for bridge maintenance: Councilmembers Herbold, Juarez, Lewis Nelson, Pedersen in favor. Voting against were Councilmembers Morales, Mosqueda, Sawant, Strauss against.
    • (2) Voting in favor of the new (substitute) amendment itself: Councilmembers Herbold, Juarez, Lewis Nelson, Pedersen in favor. Voted against: Councilmembers Morales and Strauss. Abstained: Councilmembers Mosqueda and Sawant. In both cases, my bigger boost for bridges secured a majority and moved forward.
  • For a tool to see whether each Councilmember’s amendments passed, CLICK HERE.

April 4, 2022: Disappointment in Harrell Administration rejection in 2022 of City Council’s $100 in bonds for bridge safety.

Due to the extensive amount of information regarding the efforts to gain City Council authorization for $100 million only to be rejected by the Harrell Administration, we created a separate blog post. For that saga, CLICK HERE.

March 11, 2021 UPDATE:

I have asked the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to participate in my Committee in April of 2021 to report on their progress implementing the bridge audit that I ordered in 2020. In the meantime, I issued this press release:

Prioritize Bridge Infrastructure Jobs When Investing New Federal Dollars for our Economic Recovery

Stop kicking the can down the road – fix our aging bridges now,” urges Transportation Chair and Seattle Councilmember Alex Pedersen

SEATTLE – With President Biden this week signing legislation to speed $1.9 Trillion in additional federal dollars to the nation, Transportation Committee Chair Alex Pedersen is calling on city leaders to invest millions more to create jobs by repairing Seattle’s aging bridges as part of our relief and recovery efforts. 

With Seattle expected to receive over $230 million this year from just this single piece of federal legislation, Councilmember Pedersen believes this is an historic job creation opportunity for City Hall to finally address the growing maintenance backlog for our bridges, several of which are ranked in poor condition or in urgent need of seismic retrofitting

“The next time a Seattle bridge is cracked, stuck, or closed, the people of Seattle will look back to this decision point when we had additional funds and ask, who failed to fix our bridges?”said Councilmember Pedersen.“As Transportation Chair, it’s my responsibility to keep sounding the alarm and encouraging the Mayor, transportation officials, and a majority of City Council to step up and fund this vital infrastructure that connects our communities and keeps our economy moving.”

“It’s time to stop kicking the can down the road and over the bridge,” Councilmember Pedersen continued.“In a city carved by waterways and ravines, we rely on safe bridges to support all modes of transportation that connect us and keep our regional economy moving. Let’s hear the wake up call of the West Seattle Bridge and seize this historic opportunity of additional federal dollars to invest a substantial portion toward creating jobs that finally repair our aging bridges.”

Since the premature cracking of the West Seattle Bridge required its shutdown a year ago, Councilmember Pedersen has made several attempts to get City Hall leaders to invest more in Seattle’s brittle bridges. After successfully securing funds for most of the West Seattle Bridge restoration, several opportunities to invest more in the aging bridges across Seattle have encountered too many excuses and too little action.

  • During last year’s budget deliberations in October 2020, Councilmember Pedersen sought $24 million more for bridges, but received only $4 million while individual transportation projects received more additional funds than all Seattle’s other bridges combined. 

With Seattle about to receive hundreds of millions more in cash from the federal government, there are no more excuses available to ignore our aging bridge infrastructure.  In addition to the dollars needed to restore the West Seattle High Bridge, Seattle’s aging bridges have the following immediate needs:

  • $20 million to $88 million more annually for bridge maintenance. (Annual maintenance needed is $34 million to $102 million, per the City Auditor’s report on bridges. Mayor Durkan’s proposed budget for 2021 provided only $10 million among four line items and yet Council amended Councilmember Pedersen’s request down to $4 million for a total of only $14 million.)
  • $8 million for our City’s older bridges that have aging moveable parts (such as the University, Ballard, Fremont, and Spokane bridges). Why not replace those old components right now before they fail?  When draw bridges / bascule bridges / swing bridges get stuck, they prevent all modes of transportation — including buses and bikes — which could impede Seattle’s fragile economic recovery. (Councilmember Pedersen ventured inside the aging University Bridge on February 4, 2021 to see its maintenance challenges firsthand.)
  • Millions to start the seismic retrofits of 16 Seattle bridges, including $32 million for Ballard, $29 million for Fremont, and millions to seismically upgrade the 100-year old University Bridge.
  • Millions to replace the 90-year-old Magnolia Bridge before it collapses. (Tolls could be part of the solution to pay for a new bridge there, but that might not cover the entire cost and dollars are needed upfront to complete the design of a new bridge.)

Fixing our bridges is consistent with the strategic direction from our Governor and the new U.S. Transportation Secretary. Just days ago, Governor Inslee was in our District 4. With aging University Bridge as a backdrop – a bridge ranked poor by our recent audit of Seattle’s bridges – Governor Inslee spoke about the need to invest in transportation infrastructure: “Now we need to get our roads, bridges and ferries. All of these things are necessary for the rebuilding of Washington state’s economy. We need to make the investments first, and I emphasize first, in maintenance of our existing transportation system,” Inslee said. “It is woefully underfunded.”  Similarly, Secretary of Transportation Buttigieg last week punctuated preservation: “’Fix it First’ is going to be a very important mantra for us…It doesn’t always have the same sizzle as doing something new, but we’ve got to be doing both. You just look at the condition of so many roads and bridges in this country. We can’t allow that backlog to continue.”

  • For the recent audit of Seattle’s aging bridges that shows bridge maintenance has been neglected by City officials, CLICK HERE.
  • For recently missed opportunity to invest newly approved Vehicle License Fees for bridges, CLICK HERE.
  • For the recent SDOT memo about the increased costs of seismic retrofits for Seattle’s bridges, CLICK HERE.
Councilmember Pedersen inspecting underneath the University Bridge, February 2021.

November 2020 UPDATE:

For a opportunity to use new funds to help our bridges, CLICK HERE. I’d like to thank Councilmembers Herbold, Juarez, and Lewis for supporting this effort with me to dedicate new funding to support our bridges but, unfortunately, this effort was waylaid by the rest of the Councilmembers.


Council Transportation Chair Pedersen Announces Delivery of Audit of Seattle Bridges 

SEATTLECouncilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4 – Northeast Seattle), Chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee announced the delivery of the audit report on Seattle’s bridges with a focus on the efficacy of the City’s infrastructure maintenance program.

“In a city defined by its many waterways, our bridges connect us and this audit report proves city government must do a better job investing in this basic infrastructure,” said Pedersen. “Vital for transit, freight and our regional economy, bridges require relatively large investments to build and maintain to ensure they remain safe for generations. I requested this audit of our bridges because the rapid deterioration of the West Seattle Bridge underscored the need for City officials and the general public to have a clear, thorough, and independent understanding of the condition of major bridges throughout Seattle, including the adequacy of the City’s preventative maintenance investments and practices.”

After an extensive document review and numerous exchanges by the auditor’s office with the Seattle Department of Transportation’s engineers and managers, Councilmember Pedersen is pleased to report the completion of the audit report on schedule. The auditor’s report will be presented to the City Council at its Transportation Committee to be chaired by Pedersen this Wednesday, September 16 at 9:30 a.m.

Pedersen initiated the audit with an April 23 letter to the City Auditor asking his office “to assess the physical conditions and maintenance investments for the major bridges owned by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).” Pedersen’s letter requested a report from the Auditor by mid-September to inform the City Council’s fall budget process.

The audit concluded the city government’s annual spending is far below what is needed to maintain its bridges and SDOT confirmed this: “SDOT estimates its annual spending is tens of millions of dollars less than what is needed to maintain its bridges.”

The audit report makes 10 recommendations for improving the City’s bridge maintenance and investment policies. According to the report, SDOT generally concurs with the report’s recommendations and plans to implement them. However, it will take action from the Mayor and City Council to solve the insufficiency of funding. “I am hopeful that Mayor Durkan and the City Council will pay close attention to this audit report and respond appropriately during the 2021budget discussions to ensure that critical infrastructure does not continue to deteriorate with potentially disastrous consequences,” said Councilmember Pedersen.

City Auditor David G. Jones added, “Our report shows that there is a large gap between what is budgeted for bridge maintenance and what is needed to keep them in good condition. Our recommendations are for activities that SDOT should do now to better inform where investments are made, and more effectively use the resources they currently have.”

Additional Resources: 

From the Seattle Times editorial: “New City Councilmember Alex Pedersen deserves kudos for requesting the audit after the West Seattle Bridge closure. It gives the council facts and improvements to consider, and has already prompted change at the Department of Transportation. Yet the situation demands more, including a new mindset at City Hall and an authentic effort, starting with the next budget.”

The aging University (bascule) Bridge that connects much of District 4 to downtown Seattle.

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May 31, 2020: For a thorough article by the Seattle Times about bridge maintenance needs — which mentions my audit of city bridges — CLICK HERE.

April 25, 2020: For the Seattle Times editorial supporting our launching of the bridge audit, CLICK HERE. “One step to restoring trust is an audit of citywide bridge maintenance, requested last week by new City Councilmember Alex Pedersen.”

April 23, 2020: To read the initial article by the Seattle Times, CLICK HERE.

April 23, 2020: Here’s the press release:

SEATTLECouncilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4 – Northeast Seattle), and Chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee, today asked the City Auditor to complete an audit to assess the conditions and maintenance of Seattle’s bridges.

“In a city surrounded by several waterways, our bridges are the backbone of Seattle’s infrastructure for its residents and local economy and are vital for transit, freight, and other uses,” said Pedersen. “Bridges require relatively large investments to build and maintain to ensure they remain safe for generations. The rapid deterioration of the West Seattle Bridge underscores the need for City officials and the general public to have a clear, thorough, and independent understanding of the condition of major bridges throughout Seattle, including preventative maintenance investments and practices.”

Pedersen’s letter to the City Auditor states the purpose is “to request, as chair of the City Council’s Transportation and Utilities Committee, that the Office of City Auditor complete an audit report to assess the physical conditions and maintenance investments for the major bridges owned by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT)…”

“We look forward to performing this important and valuable body of work,” said David G. Jones, the City Auditor.

“I appreciate SDOT’s recent transparency, responsiveness, and proactive sharing of information regarding the West Seattle Bridge.  I want SDOT to remain focused on the immediate needs of the West Seattle Bridge and I am therefore, flexible on the Auditor’s final completion date for reviewing the other bridges,” said Pedersen, who has also requested an interim summary of the maintenance investments on bridges by mid-September to inform the City Council’s fall budget process.

According to the City of Seattle’s adopted 2020 operating budget (page 411) and SDOT’s 2019 Capital Roadway and Structures report (page 19), there are 124 bridges owned and operated by the City of Seattle. The City Auditor’s report will focus on SDOT’s bridge maintenance program for the major bridges in the City’s portfolio and may discuss other non-bridge assets managed by SDOT.  While SDOT already obtains and monitors much of this underlying information on our City’s bridges and the federal government and state government also provide important oversight, the audit will gather, summarize, and analyze that information for review by the City Council.

For the proposed scope of the audit, use the following website link:

In addition to summarizing key information on all major bridges, the report should include a deeper analysis of a sampling of major bridges across our city including, but not limited to, the Ballard Bridge, Magnolia Bridge, Montlake Bridge, University Bridge, and West Seattle Bridge.

The Auditor will discuss the final scope with SDOT, which could include a description of other major non-bridge infrastructure assets owned by the City to provide context for SDOT’s broader asset management portfolio.

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