SEATTLE - The South Park Bridge has enjoyed its last sunset.
King County closed the 79-year-old span today at 7 p.m. after leaders say it is unsafe for travel, weakened by three earthquakes and the 20,000 cars, trucks, and semis that drive over it every day.
The Duwamish tribal drummers and a bagpipe band performed as the bridge's leaves were opened for the last time. Scores of people who live or work near the bridge lingered in the sun's rays to reminisce about the aging bridge. Other acts on tap for the wake included a New Orleans funeral band, as well as a Latino and blues band.
"It will be interesting to see how the neighborhood changes over time," said artist Elisa Renouard as she completed a colorful mural of the community on the bridge abutment. "Hopefully this event will bring much more support to a marginalized community here in South Park."
Richard and Betty Srok called South Park home for nearly two decades. Richard worked at Boeing across the Duwamish. They came back to snap photos and remember. "If they would get busy and build another bridge, it would be great so we don't let it slip down the tubes," said Betty.
For those drivers, the closure will create a traffic jam in this industrial corridor. The bridge connects Boeing Field, the South Park neighborhood, and Highway 99.
"We drive this bridge 10 times a day," says small business owner Lance Schubert. "It's going to take a half hour (for the detour). It's horrible."
Others worry about what will happen to the diverse South Park community, which relies on the steady stream of traffic.
"Businesses down there are already hurting," says Boeing employee Heath Ronning, who questions why money can't be found to replace the bridge. "All the money they waste on other things, why can't they spend money on the bridge?"
Jalisco has been serving authentic Mexican food for 17 years. Almost all of their lunch customers are Boeing employees who pop across the South Park Bridge.
But with the bridge closing Wednesday night, Alicia Ramos worries her regulars won't take the time to find an alternate route to their tables.
"We don't know if it's going to come or not. So we are so sad," said Ramos, Jalisco Restaurant. "A lot of workers maybe lost a job - and me too."
Signs on both side of the bridge warn of the permanent closure, and three Metro bus runs changed their routes Wednesday morning to accommodate the closure, although all the South Park stops remain the same.
"We're just stopping to take a last look at the bridge before they close it," said Larry McCollum, commuter.
McCollum has commuted over this bridge the past three years and stopped to eat one last breakfast while he contemplated the changes ahead.
"Because I don't have to drive very fast and it's casual. It's kind of like small town versus coming over the First Avenue South Bridge and having to get on the highway," said McCollum.
People who leave around the South Park Bridge will hold a wake and ceremonial funeral for the bridge beginning at 6:00 p.m. Wednesday.
King County has said it just doesn't have the money to immediately replace the bridge, which could cost $130 million to build. The county, city, and state have all pledged roughly $80 million toward the cost, but they will need $50 million to complete the deal.
The County estimates a new bridge could take 2 to 3 years to complete.