Transportation
9:23 am
Fri May 6, 2011

Kids break piñata, officials break ground to celebrate future bridge

A gigantic bridge-shaped piñata spewed more than four hundred pounds of candy last night in south Seattle. It was part of the Cinco de Mayo celebration going on in the city's South Park neighborhood. 

Earlier in the day, officials broke ground on a new $130-million-dollar bridge that's going to re-connect that community to major highways.

Officials divvied up pieces of the old South Park bridge as signs of appreciation for the coming together that they say this moment represents. The old bridge wasn't safe, so it was closed last year. That caused problems, said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

"Leaving this community without a bridge was just not acceptable."

Constantine received a special framed photograph which shows him signing a pledge on a nearby tavern wall two years ago, promising not to give up the fight to secure federal funding to rebuild the artery through this lower-income neighborhood.

"Before it closed last year, the South Park bridge carried some 20,000 vehicles a day and 3,000 trucks, " Constantine said.  "It supported a region providing 70,000 good-paying jobs.  And contributed to the overall economy of this entire Duwamish Valley and indeed, our entire county."

The federal government chipped in $34-million dollars for the project.  King County nearly matched that, and the state put in $20-million. A slew of other groups including the Port of Seattle, Puget Sound Regional Council and the City of Seattle also stepped up. Boeing donated polluted land.

Dan Matthis of the U.S. Department of Transportation told all the folks gathered under tents for this celebration near the river's edge that it's also a lesson in tenacity: this community did not give up, even after losing one bid for federal funds.

"Now, when the project didn't get accepted for the TIGER funding, you didn't throw in the towel, you rolled up your sleeves and got to work, broadening your coalition of support and funding.  So that when the TIGER II  program came along, you were ready."

But along with all of the celebrating to mark the end of an economic drama – restaurants going out of business, commuters frustrated – there was another kind of happiness going on too. 

"I'm a resident.  I have no business," says Carlos Lopez, who describes himself as "an honest man."  He says,  "I'm happy I'm out of the noise."

He's one of the guys who helped build what may be the biggest piñata the region's ever seen. He says his wife works in one of the restaurants that's suffered so much by being cut off from commuters. But he says it's been nice to have some peace and quiet in the neighborhood for a while.

"This has become a quiet town now," he says with a smile, adding that he has enjoyed exploring the Duwamish under the quieted bridge in a kayaks with his friends and family.  "We have to enjoy it for the next two years, because we won't have it this quiet again." 

The noise will be a drag when the bridge re-opens in two years - that's hard to dispute.

But there's another bright side: now there's a new chamber of commerce for Latino businesses in South Park. Perhaps that's even more important than the 100 or so family-wage jobs that will come with the construction work on the new bridge.

My colleague Charla Bear reported on several of the other key milestones in this saga.  You can read her prior coverage by clicking here and here.