The age-old saying that plagues old bridges rang true in the South Seattle neighborhood of South Park: old, deficient and seismically unsound. That’s the label King County placed on the South Park Bridge in 2010 after 79 years of operation. Washingtonians are well aware of the potential threats that can afflict bridges. Tacoma Narrows, anyone? How about the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River? The South Park Bridge, weather-beaten and approaching 80 years old, was deemed unsafe by King County in 2010 and closed soon after. Residents feared the bridge would never be rebuilt.
Seattle has many nestled-in neighborhoods, perhaps none more so than South Park. The bridge is important to area residents and businesses for mobility and commerce. This small, vocal community rallied strong for a new connection to Georgetown, and King County responded by securing funding spread across federal, state and private sources to build a new bascule bridge over the Duwamish River. Construction broke ground in May 2011 and the new bridge opened exactly four years to the day after it closed on June 30, 2014, but to many of the area’s residents, the bridge couldn’t reopen soon enough.
Given the prevalence of Spanish and Vietnamese-speaking residents in the neighborhood, public involvement needed to be handled creatively to meet the needs of this culturally-diverse Seattle burb. EnviroIssues worked with King County to keep residents up-to-date on bridge replacement efforts with tools that included translated maps and posters. While the information line was EI’s primary focus, we also crafted responses to tricky emails, supported King County when community events were needed and engaged community members one on one. While the closure was tough, South Park residents felt involved and heard throughout construction. EI made sure that the patience of the community didn’t go unnoticed. To celebrate the new bridge’s opening, we helped King County host a celebration event the community would never forget – one that included a pyrotechnics display, a parade, tours of a bridge tower (over 1,400 people attended), mariachi bands and even a Lucha Libre wrestling match! There was a lot to be thankful for in South Seattle that day—the bridge to South Park is that important.