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Originally published June 30, 2010 at 7:37 PM | Page modified July 1, 2010 at 11:39 AM

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Crowds bid goodbye to the South Park Bridge

South Park residents mourn the closure of their South Park Bridge across the Duwamish River.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The 79-year-old South Park Bridge closed Wednesday night, but it didn't go quietly.

Thousands of residents and business owners lined the bridge for one last walk across, led by the Duwamish Tribal drums. The bridge was supposed to officially close at 7 p.m. — after two historic Metro buses drove across — but the closing was delayed for 15 to 20 minutes as the crowd followed bagpipers across the bridge.

John Dickinson draped pink netting across the bridge in honor of his great-great-grandfather Samuel Bevan, who was the last mayor of South Park in 1907 before it was annexed to the city.

"It's a wake," Dickinson said. "It's sad it's closing and will probably never reopen. This is the South End. It's always ignored."

Gloomy outlook

Many people at the bridge-closing festivities shared Dickinson's gloomy outlook, predicting there would never be a new bridge, and that the South Park neighborhood, stripped of its lifeline, would wither and die. However, public officials have committed $80 million toward a new bridge and are asking the federal government for some of the remaining $50 million needed to build it.

Gerald and Paula James stood in the middle of the span with their hand-painted signs, "Rest in peace dear old bridge, you'll be greatly missed."

"My favorite restaurant is here," said Paula James, referring to South Park. "This is a growing community, and this is a stab in their backs. It's just criminal. They're just going to let it die."

On the bridge entrance Raymundo Olivas erected a large black tombstone with the words, "RIP. South Park Bridge died of neglect by Seattle and King County."

"This will kill the retail business," said Olivas, who operates a South Park business that does taxes and bookkeeping for the Hispanic community. "We're the end of the totem pole. This is a total failure of our county and city government, but they don't care about us."

One man jumped from the bridge into the Duwamish River and swam ashore while others pried up the bridge's reflectors as souvenirs. Still others painted graffiti on the now-closed span.

For now, its drawspans will remain in the up position to allow free navigation on the Duwamish River. Eventually, King County, which owns the bridge, will demolish it. South Park, mostly in the city of Seattle, is home to 4,000 people.

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The bridge was closed because its concrete is failing, and its pilings weren't sunk into solid footings when it was built. The 2001 Nisqually earthquake caused major damage, and the Federal Highway Administration gave the bridge one of the worst safety ratings in the state.

Last February the federal government rejected the county's request for $99 million in stimulus money to pay for most of the replacement costs, giving money instead to Seattle's Mercer Street project.

Costs of new span

Officials say a new bridge will cost about $130 million and a recent push by various state and local agencies has pledged $80 million to replace it.

County officials will apply for a federal grant in August in an effort to win some of the remaining amount.

Gov. Chris Gregoire announced last week the state will provide $20 million in state funds, the Metropolitan King County Council pledged $30 million, the Seattle Port Commission $5 million, the Transportation Improvement Board $10 million and the Seattle City Council $15 million.

But that still isn't enough to replace the bridge, which is expected to take at least three years to rebuild.

The span provided a vital link between East Marginal Way South and Highway 99 in the city's Duwamish industrial area.

Three Metro bus routes that crossed the South Park Bridge have been rerouted. The Number 60, the 131 and the 134.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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