South Park Bridge's Demise Inspires Carpenter Tim Fahey to Run for Office

In any election there are long shots with varying degrees of sanity running for public office. King County Council hopeful Tim Fahey isn't so much out on the fringes as he is really pissed off at what he sees as a major failing of local government: the tragic death of the South Park Bridge.

For most of his life until now, Fahey has been a carpenter and devout union member. "South Park is full of poor, working-class folks, I'm one of them," he says on his website.

Fahey is taking on Joe McDermott, widely considered the runaway favorite for the council seat being temporarily warmed by Jan Drago. Fahey says that if elected, he'll do everything in his power to get the recently closed South Park bridge replaced and prevent such a transit tragedy from ever happening again.

Living less than two blocks from the bridge, Fahey and was in attendance in June 2009 when then-Executive hopeful Dow Constantine, Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin and Port Commissioner John Creighton all signed their names to a painted board at the now-closed County Line tavern reading: "I hereby pledge to do all within my capacity to secure funding for the replacement of the South Park Bridge."

Fahey wasn't impressed. He says that for years, the King County Department of Transportation had been holding regular meetings for residents near the bridge to inform them that the crumbling, 80-year-old structure was in desperate need of repair. "We thought they were on it," Fahey says.

But they weren't. Fixing the bridge has long been a source of fighting between the county and the City of Seattle, neither of whom wanted to pay for it. And finally, at the end of last month, county officials closed the bridge as the sound of bagpipes filled the night air.

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Promises, promises.
Local governments are now scrambling to find the money to replace the bridge, but getting promises and getting money are two different things. Last month the city pledged $15 million to replace the bridge. But this week, while discussing budget shortfalls at the Seattle Department of Transportation, Mayor Mike McGinn backed off of that. He now says the city will contribute something, but he can't say how much.

There really isn't much Fahey can do about the bridge itself beyond promise to support applications for federal grants and lobbying the city and state for money, all of which Fahey says he'll do.

But he also thinks he can prevent another South Park Bridge-type failure. Fahey says he'll have an army of DOT staff comb the county to come up with a list of roads or bridges that need to be fixed. Then he'll have road crews address them in the order of urgency. So if you live on a little-used but severely pothole-marked road in White Center, you might want to consider giving him your vote.

Fahey admits that in a county where criminal justice and public health programs face deep cuts to already stretched budgets, his complaints about one bridge can have a hard time resonating with voters. "I did bump into one kid yesterday who said, 'I don't want the South Park bridge to drive the debate'," Fahey says. "And I said, 'Yeah, but the South Park Bridge isn't an issue, it's a symptom, a problem that could be coming to infrastructure near you.' "

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