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A new tax levy for Seattle bridges? One councilmember signals support for it

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(The Center Square) – Many bridges in Seattle are exceeding their designed lifespan, causing some city councilmembers to consider if a new revenue source will be needed to fund the required maintenance.

On Tuesday, city officials presented a “State of the Bridges” event before the Seattle City Council Transportation Committee, with the big takeaway that the city’s existing $10.5 million in funding is far from enough to bring all bridges to “fair” or “good” condition.

If the city had unconstrained funding, did not have to worry about contractor capacity, and did not have to worry about closing all the bridges in Seattle at the same time to repair them, it would cost $173.9 million over 30 years. Unfortunately, Seattle Division Director Elizabeth Sheldon pointed out during the presentation that scenario would impact the city’s transportation network considerably.

According to the presentation, the average age of bridges in Seattle is 60 years. Currently, 57% of Seattle bridges were graded in fair condition, 9% were given a poor rating and 34% were rated as being in good condition.

“In 2023, we have actually been able to move more bridges into the good [rating],” Sheldon said in the Transportation Committee meeting.

The scale of the need for bridge replacement and repairs in Seattle has Seattle City Councilmember Dan Strauss calling for a new revenue source to meet the need.

“We have enough operations, maintenance, and repairs that we should probably have a bridge levy,” Strauss said. “I think that the consistent funding stream for ensuring operations and maintenance is occurring proactively. It’s just not there and that’s a structural error.”

Strauss also noted that all of the bridges that were rated fair can transition to a poor rating rapidly, as was the case with the West Seattle Bridge, which ultimately was replaced in 2022 after nearly three years of construction.

While fellow Councilmember Rob Saka did not outright support a new tax levy, he emphasized the need to address the city’s aging bridges.

“It’s critically important that we invest in our bridges and maintain them,” Saka said.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell is expected to announce a levy renewal proposal that would continue the city’s $930 million “Levy to Move Seattle,” which expires at the end of this year. The levy uses revenue towards improving safety for all travelers and maintaining Seattle streets and bridges.

The current levy has a rate of 33 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, meaning a median homeowner in Seattle pays $256 annually.

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