There are several ways to look at the currently losing struggle to keep State Route 169’s Green River Bridge near Black Diamond open to traffic. One is more important than all the rest combined, and that’s the public’s safety.
Closing the bridge for possibly the next six months, as the state Department of Transportation did Tuesday night, will, to say the least, put a major crimp in the driving habits and lives of motorists who take that route regularly for work, school, business and shopping. People will need to take detours or drive even farther around to get where they’ve been used to going. Some businesses could temporarily lose customers who can’t conveniently get to the other side, so to speak, and that’s the last thing those merchants need during the current economy. There also will be an impact on buses that carry students in Black Diamond who attend Enumclaw School District schools.
Another negative in the bridge situation is that DOT has been working since last summer on shoring up the unsteady hillside beneath and near the span, and yet the conditions – exacerbated by recent heavy rain and the certainty of more this winter – remain uncertain enough that the structure, also known as Kummer Bridge, is off-limits to traffic. Sometimes nature wins despite man’s best efforts to coexist. This is one of those times.
And that brings us to the single overriding issue: Public safety. Because of DOT’s diligence and attention, motorists aren’t unnecessarily – or unknowingly – risking their lives by driving across a bridge that has geotechnical engineers and other experts worried. Granted, that’s expected from DOT, whose job is to stay on top of situations like this and keep the public informed and safe. But as we know from incidents in other parts of the country, bridges sometimes collapse without warning. DOT has apparently averted that potential in the case of the Green River/Kummer Bridge.
And it’s good to know that the agency is giving the proper attention to that span and not being distracted too much by high-profile bridge and highway dramas – such as the Seattle Viaduct and the State Route 520 bridge across Lake Washington – to make sure that transportation safety is on equal footing in our neck of the woods. We can believe Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond when she vowed this week that DOT “will do what is necessary to keep the public safe.”
Pat Jenkins, publisher/editor