UW looks for funding to replace Hec Ed bridge

Hec Ed Bridge

Hec Ed Bridge -

The Hec Edmundson Bridge currently does not meet current vertical clearance requirements for vehicles. The bridge has been rated 'Poor' by the Seattle Department of Transportation. 

Photo by Joshua Bessex

Hec Ed Bridge

Hec Ed Bridge

Correction (11/25, 2:01 p.m.): In the original version of this story, it was stated that the UW was looking for backup funding after failing to receive the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant of $12 million to improve the Burke-Gilman Trail, which includes the Hec Ed bridge. The UW’s TIGER grant application did not include the Hec Ed bridge. 

Over Montlake Boulevard Northeast stands an old bridge. On the lower side, cracks can be seen along with the sign stating, “Low Clearance.” On the top side, multiple stencil writings state, “Help Replace Me.”

The stencil writing was just one of many community responses to the unfavorable condition of the Hec Edmundson Bridge, a pedestrian and bicycle-only bridge that crosses over Montlake Boulevard Northeast and State Route 513. The bridge, which was designed in 1938 according to the period’s standards, connects to the west at the Burke-Gilman Trail and to the east at the Hec Edmundson Pavilion and the Intramural Activities Center (IMA).

According to the UW Transportation Services (UWTS), the bridge does not meet current vertical clearance requirements and has been struck repeatedly and frequently by oversized vehicles over the past decades. The Hec Ed bridge has also been rated “poor” for more than a decade, with a sufficiency rating (SR) of 35 out of a 100, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). SDOT’s rating system states that any bridge with an SR of less than 50 is a replacement candidate. UWTS officials said the state, the city, as well as the local community have voiced their concerns with the bridge, as well as other parts of the Burke-Gilman Trail.

“Demand for the bridge has grown, with well over 6,000 crossings per day — and that’s without basketball or football games,” said Josh Kavanagh, Director of UWTS. “The use of the bridge will only increase with Link light rail opening in 2016. With the bridge’s condition being poor and declining, now’s the time to plan for its replacement.”

Currently, the Hec Ed bridge is among the locations with the highest amount of potential bike and pedestrian conflicts. From their study in 2010, the UWTS reported that a total of 6,300 people use the bridge daily. Studies of the University of Washington Link Light Rail station project a 22 percent increase for pedestrians and a 220 percent increase for bicyclists crossing the Hec Ed bridge by 2030.

Recently, the UW collaborated with STO and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to apply for an approximately $1.5 million grant from the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) given by the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC). The UW plans to use the $1.5 million for planning and preliminary engineering.

“SDOT and WSDOT have joined us as partners because, while the bridge connects two university properties, it spans a state highway that also functions as a city arterial,” Kavanagh said. “In addition, the connection is a vital one for the larger community, including future users of Link light rails and the 520 bicycle and pedestrian facility — especially those with origins or destinations north of the bridge.”

Rick Olson, director of government relations and communications at PSRC, said the TAP is designed to fund projects other than roadways, buses, or trains.

“[It’s for] more nontraditional projects like bicycle and pedestrian pathways, things that relate to historic resources, and much of other things,” Olson said.

The PSRC has an estimated $17 million for the TAP grant. The PSRC’s Executive Board is expected to make its final decision on Dec. 5, Olson said. PSRC has received 62 applications so far and is accepting public comments until then. He added that the UW community has also submitted public comments about the need for a new Hec Ed Bridge.

According to Olson, through a merit-based review, the Hec Ed bridge is currently recommended as third in PSRC’s contingency list. This means that the bridge improvement project is third in line to receive funds if additional funding becomes available in the TAP.

“Part of the reason why [the Hec Ed bridge project] was put on the contingency list and not part of the top tier is because we try to … provide safe crossings where there are none,” Olson said. “In this case, the Hec Ed bridge is very near the new bridge to the Light Rail, so that’s one of the reasons.”

Olson said there will be future opportunities to get funding. In January, PSRC will start the process for selecting new projects to receive grants. If “things go as planned,” Olson said the PSRC will have up to $20 million to give out. He added that many at the PSRC are also advocating for new transportation funding from the state Legislature. The statewide package of transportation funding approved by the state House sets aside money for projects like the new Hec Ed Bridge.

Theresa Doherty, UW director of regional and community relations, said it is likely that the UW will reapply for the TIGER grant, depending on the process started by the federal government.

“The bridge needs to be replaced, but it’s not like it has to be replaced in the next five months or six months or a year,” Doherty said. “It’s something that we’ll continue to work on. I’m not sure where we’ll look for our round of funds, but we’ll make sure that if there are grant processes coming up, we’ll be in line for those.”

Until the funding comes and improvements are made to the existing Hec Ed bridge, there are other crossing alternatives to the bridge. However, there is a 0.7-mile distance between on-street marked crosswalks and the street section served by the Hec Ed bridge. 

Once the funding comes, the UWTS plans to use it to make several changes to the bridge, including improving safety with elements that include full-vertical clearance for vehicular traffic, improved pedestrian and bicycle accommodations to include tabled intersections, clear and adequate sight lines, and pedestrian lighting. The bridge would also undergo aesthetic enhancements in addition to improving compliance to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“There’s a general understanding by members of the community who either walk across the bridge or go under it in cars that the bridge needs to be replaced,” Doherty said. “It’s an aging piece of infrastructure.”

Reach Science Editor Imana Gunawan at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @imanafg 

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