Wrong location, wrong priority.
The Bainbridge Island City Council voted 5-2 to Tuesday abandon a plan to build a controversial pedestrian/bicyclist bridge over Highway 305, saying the $3 million span was not only a questionable use of taxpayers’ dollars, but also in the wrong spot on the island’s main thoroughfare.
The key votes against the bridge came from the council’s three newest members, who were ceremonially sworn in at the start of the meeting.
New council members Rasham Nassar, Joe Deets and Matthew Tirman voted against the bridge.
The trio joined council veterans Ron Peltier and Sarah Blossom in rejecting the span, derisively labeled the “Bridge to Nowhere” by critics.
The vote came after more than two hours of citizen comments for and against the proposed span. Some asked the city council to take a visionary step and support the bridge over the highway — an idea that dates back more than a decade — and noted it would connect two sides of downtown split by 305 while also encouraging people to get out of their cars to walk or bike. It was also a needed connection to the Sound to Olympics Trail, they said, which is currently under construction along Highway 305.
Still, it was a leap of faith that a majority of the council was not willing to take.
“My position against the bridge has not changed, and it hasn’t changed for a couple of reasons,” Tirman said.
The bridge was a big topic during his campaign for the council, he said, and the subject of overwhelming opposition.
“It’s time to get back to priorities,” Tirman said.
While much of the bridge construction would be funded by an outside grant, a total of $1 million ($640,000 for the design, and $207,000 toward the construction costs) of the cost would be funded by the city. Some of those opposed to the bridge have said that city funding could better be spent elsewhere, including roadside improvements for walkers and bikers.
“I think these dollars can be better allocated elsewhere,” he said.
Deets also questioned the location of the bridge.
“Why there? It just never seemed to make sense to me,” he said.
Deets added that he, too, had heard much opposition during his sixth-month-long campaign for the council.
‘We got it from both barrels — almost 10 to 1 ‘no’,” he said.
Peltier, one of the bridge’s strongest critics on the council, said the bridge was “clearly in the wrong place.”
He said the bridge supporters were out in force at the meeting, many from off-island. And Peltier had an answer for many of those who asked the council to be forward thinking, and see that the pedestrian bridge would be an even more valuable asset in the future.
“I think being visionary means to rise above what everybody is telling you and to think for yourself,” Peltier said.
At least one council member said his opinion on the bridge had changed after Tuesday’s extensive discussion.
Mayor Kol Medina recalled his earlier vote against the bridge, and he said he voted against it last year because he was worried about how it would look.
“It doesn’t look as bad as I thought it would,” Medina said.
While he said his mind wasn’t fully made up, Medina said he did support a motion by Councilman Mike Scott to proceed ahead with the design of the project to the 30 percent stage.
Scott noted the bridge had gone through a highly competitive grant process to get funding, and called the “Bridge to Nowhere” moniker a “mindless phrase.”
He called it a “Bridge to Everywhere.”
“I think it’s a great idea,” Scott said.
According to an earlier presentation, city officials shared an estimate that 57 walkers and 86 bicyclists will use the bridge on a daily basis, or a total of 143 daily users.
The estimate on the number of bikers and walkers using the bridge was based on 3,592 single- and multi-family homes, including homes permitted but not yet built, in the greater Winslow area.
Council members questioned those figures, however, and said the area used for the estimate included homes near or north of High School Road, and noted it would be doubtful those residents would go out of their way to use the bridge at its Vineyard Lane location.
City staff also told the council that building the bridge at the High School Road intersection with 305, which some had suggested, would come at twice the cost and environmental impact than the one proposed because the highway was wider at High School Road. There was also a wetland on the west side of the highway.
Scott’s call to continue the design work on the bridge fell to defeat on a 5-2 vote.
Peltier than asked for a council vote to cancel the project, which also passed 5-2.