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SDOT seeks bids on bike projects to connect Georgetown to downtown and South Park + What’s the deal with these bids?

Two projects with big potential for connecting Georgetown to the north and south are officially seeking contractor bids with hopes that construction can begin in 2024.

Map and design diagrams for the Georgetown to South Park Connection project.

The Georgetown to South Park Connection is a walking and biking trail from S Bailey Street in the Georgetown business district to the South Park Bridge. It is being developed in conjunction with a Seattle Parks dog park project that includes a walking and biking trail through the old Flume site formerly owned by City Light. It could end up being a lovely little reprieve within a heavily industrial area.

Top-down diagram of the Flume property park design.
Design concept for the Flume property park from Seattle Parks.

So there were a lot of different moving pieces and agencies involved in making this project happen, which is part of the reason it has taken so long to get to construction. But if bids come back within the budget, construction on both the trail and park elements could begin later this year.


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Map of the Georgetown to Downtown Safety Project.

The Georgetown to Downtown Safety Project is a combination of protected bike lanes that utilize the existing SoDo Trail to create a continuous route from S Lucile Street in Georgetown to S Dearborn Street in the Chinatown-International District. We took an in-depth look at the route in a previous post. SDOT also sent much of this project to bid with hopes of beginning construction this year. But in this project, there are also some short elements that they plan to use SDOT’s in-house crews to complete because design details are still in the works. So rather than delay the larger project until every detail has been finalized, SDOT is putting most the project out to bid and will finish design and build the remaining sections by the time the full project is ready to open.

What’s the deal with all this bidding?

Some of you may be reading the word “bid” over and over in this story and are wondering, “What’s the deal with all this bidding? Why doesn’t SDOT just build it themselves?”

Under state law, most public works projects over a certain cost must be constructed by private contractors using a competitive bidding process. The general limits for most SDOT projects are $75,000 if a single trade is involved or $150,000 if multiple trades are involved (traffic signals and lighting are exempted). There is also another limit that says no more than 10% of the construction budget can be performed by city employees. It gets even more complicated, though. For example, when is work counted as one big project versus several smaller projects that just happen to be near each other? Let’s say SDOT crews install some new curb ramps and notice that the pavement is in very bad condition. Can they repave the broken pavement as a separate project or does it all need to count as one bigger project that together would exceed $150,000? Or what if they do the work as a series of iterative projects over several years?

Questions like these arise often when making safety improvements because these projects often get close to the $150,000 mark. But it is faster and cheaper to use SDOT crews rather than going through the contractor bidding process. This rule is partly why some Seattle bike lanes can feel so flimsy. If you need to cover a significant distance, the budget limit is only going to allow for paint and plastic posts. But if you’re going to go through all the trouble of sending a project to bid, then you might as well do it right with proper barriers and such. So we end up with a situation where some bike lanes are flimsy and insufficient but were created quickly while others are fully complete with concrete barriers, but took years and a significant budget to happen. What Seattle and communities across Washington need is something in the middle, a quick-build option that includes concrete barriers where they are most needed even if pouring the curbs puts the budget over $150,000.

Perhaps part of the state’s response to our current traffic safety crisis, legislators could add an exception or at least more wiggle room to the bidding law as it pertains to safety improvements, giving local DOTs more of a budget to make quick fixes to address dangerous road designs. $150,000 is not very much money when you’re talking about transportation infrastructure, and even a few new accessible curb ramps and crosswalks can go over the limit. Given the overwhelming scope of work needed to improve safety on our streets, we don’t have the time or money to send everything through the bidding process.

In the meantime, SDOT has significantly ramped up its construction schedule this year. “2024 will be one of the busiest and most productive construction years for SDOT in recent memory,” said SDOT Spokesperson Ethan Bergerson. “Last year, we focused on delivery by completing design on a variety of safety-focused projects which we are starting construction on this year. Typically, we start about one large construction project a month and so far in 2024 we have been doubling that pace.”


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6 responses to “SDOT seeks bids on bike projects to connect Georgetown to downtown and South Park + What’s the deal with these bids?”

  1. @tfooq It's been really nice to see SDOT moving so much faster on safety improvements. It sure feels like there's been a bigger focus on execution, and so I hope they continue to get the levy funding to enable this to continue.

  2. Don Brubeck

    It’s really nice to see SDOT moving so much faster on safety improvements, but this is the final year of a 9-year levy program. The first two years were wasted with almost no implementation, and the next years lagged way behind. This really looks like a desperate attempt to do a lot of stuff to generate a lot press releases to get people to vote for the next levy, which so far promises less and has much fuzzier commitments. Please ask the Council to improve the draft levy, or vote no and force a do-over.

    I am also wondering which is worse: riding on streets with heavy truck traffic in SODO and Georgetown, or riding through an off-leash dog park? [insert emoji of your choice]

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      The off-leash area will be fenced off from the trail.

    2. Sal

      My first thought is Airport way during Morning Commute because that is terrifying,
      Then I think about being chased by a pack of dogs…

  3. Dylan Oldenburg

    Rather than adding wiggle room, why not just scrap the law completely? Private contractors always overcharge for these projects, and I see no reason why SDOT can’t just be in charge of more of its projects.

  4. Peter Breyfogle

    What a tangled weave of government requirements that burn money via staff time but don’t get as much real work done!

    Why does that state get to mandate what a city can do and with dollar amounts that quickly become outdated?

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