There has been only one kind of thinking about the West Seattle Bridge mess: Get it fixed now! But that now is, obviously, nowhere near the now of our time. From day one, the non-broken bridge has only pushed its realization further and further into the future. And that extension has, of course, been accompanied by a stunning rise in costs. The more time it takes, the more money it costs.
Seattle Times' transportation reporter, Mike Lindblom writes:
After that, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) says it needs to borrow $100 million through a bond sale, followed by another internal loan. All together, SDOT anticipates it will rack up between $160 million and $225 million in bridge-related expenses by the end of 2021.
Lindblom ends this passage with: "That money wouldn’t cover construction of a new bridge." He calls the financing of the repair work "patchwork," and pointed out the SDOT could not "provide a breakdown of costs or a debt-profile chart."
Lindblom is a no-nonsense reporter, and yet in his description of the handling of a major transportation project/crisis, he sounds iffy. This is not a reflection of his reporting, but of the state of things at SDOT and Durkan's office: total panic. The bridge's troubles seem to be deepening, and the only solution we have at present is to just keep throwing all kinds of "tricky money," to use an expression of a Polish economist I admire, into the growing hole. The best we have going for the dead bridge right now is reanimating it for only 15 years before it returns to the tomb again.
At this point, I want us to consider a tweet by the Republican Trumper Kevin McCarthy.
Dear Democrat Party leaders: This is an international health crisis—not a political opportunity to restructure American life.
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) August 5, 2020
There is no difference between the way SDOT is handling the West Seattle Bridge mess, and the way Trump and the GOP is handling the pandemic. Both do not want to "restructure American life." With Trump, it's the deadly rush to re-open the economy and push kids into schools. American life must stay as is during a pandemic that has claimed 160,000 lives.
The SDOT and Durkan are doing the same thing with the West Seattle bridge. At a moment when restructuring transportation between West Seattle and the city appears to be a very reasonable option, they have decided instead to commit their resources to the brief reanimation of automobile mobility. Transportation must not be reconfigured, they say. The bridge—which is not even old (it came into existence in the mid-1980s), nor was its construction a matter of fact (its conception was complicated, even controversial)—cannot be abandoned at all costs. And what's to come after the bridge dies again? "Demolishing it... to create an all-new steel truss or cable-supported bridge, lasting 75 years." Will cars even be around then?
At this point, and considering the time that's now available, we could stop the automatic, thoughtless, blind repair process and explore other transportation alternatives for West Seattle. Yes, we could even dream a little. The world of the future does not have to be locked by the world of the past. The coronavirus pandemic has certainly changed America's future (like it or not). The West Seattle Bridge mess should likewise change Seattle's transportation values.