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The clock struck midnight, at least figuratively speaking, Tuesday evening on Seattle’s South Park Bridge.  

Lacking funding to repair or replace the deteriorated 80-year-old double-leaf bascule bridge across the Duwamish River, King County's Dept. of Transportation had no choice but to permanently close the structure that handled 20,000 vehicles a day, including a large number of trucks bound for Seattle’s Duwamish industrial area and north-south arterials. 

That the bridge was closed is hardly surprising, given its lengthy list of deficiencies: a federal sufficiency rating of 4 out of 100 (last among Seattle’s high-volume bridges), narrow travel lanes, cracked piers, severely corroded steel, deteriorating concrete, lingering damage from the 2000 Nisqually earthquake, high-maintenance machinery. This list goes on and on. 

There are several other routes in and out of South Park neighborhood, but residents and business owners are understandably concerned about the closure’s economic impact, particularly at a time when every customer counts. One less Duwamish River crossing will send truckers and other motorists to other routes, most of which are already suffering from volume-related stress. 

How long South Park’s semi-isolation lasts depends on how quickly state and local officials can raise $131 million for a replacement structure. Approximately $80 million has been cobbled together so far, and there’s hope that the case for a new bridge will be strong enough to justify a federal grant to cover the balance. King County has already scheduled public hearings on potential right-of-way realignments for a new crossing. 

Still, it will be two to three years before a new bridge is in place, leaving a lot of questions about South Park’s immediate future. 

One thing is certainthe neighborhood knows how to send an old piece of infrastructure out of service in style.  

Hundreds, if not thousands, joined in a neighborhood bridge-closing ceremony, paying their personal tributes with a final walk across the drawspans before the scheduled 7:00 pm closing time. There were bagpipes and tribal drummers, commemorative t-shirts and ribbons, artists and vintage busses, tearful reminiscences and vocal criticism of city and county officials for not moving more quickly to secure a replacement. 

 One could argue that the creaky, rust-coated structure was seen as more than just a handy route across the river. It was a beloved, long-time member of the community that deserved a better fate. 

But by the time the sun slipped behind the Olympic Mountains, the South Park Bridge drawspans were upright and locked (minus a few reflectors and other components appropriated as souvenirs), awaiting their scheduled dismantlement later this year.