Two low-rated bridges that connect thousands of commuters each day to River Road are at different stages in their replacement.
The severely outdated northbound Puyallup River bridge at state Route 167 is a step closer to being replaced in the next few years. Construction of a new Milroy Bridge linking Fife and Puyallup is likely several years away.
The state Department of Transportation has chosen three engineering firm finalists vying to build a new bridge over the Puyallup River at the 167 interchange near North Meridian, replacing the historic steel-truss span built in 1925.
Meanwhile, Pierce County still needs to secure funding to replace the Milroy Bridge on River Road at 66th Avenue East, which dates back to 1931. There is less urgency to repair the Milroy Bridge because it receives less traffic and has a higher safety rating than the bridge upstream.
Katie Bennett of Puyallup uses both bridges and is glad to know work is moving forward on the Puyallup River bridge. But shes concerned about slow progress replacing the Milroy Bridge, where cars sit for long periods of time waiting to cross the intersection.
If that thing goes into the river, theres no doubt that it will take more people than the Skagit River bridge on I-5, she said.
The Puyallup River bridge carries an average of about 18,000 vehicles daily. It is the main link between North Meridian, River Road and SR 167.
Planning to replace the bridge began in the spring, well before last months collapse of the Interstate 5 Skagit River bridge near Mount Vernon, which shed light on regional and national bridge conditions.
WSDOT project engineer Brenden Clarke said the state secured federal funding for the $31 million Puyallup River bridge project after a 2011 inspection revealed diminished conditions on the already low-rated structure. It has a sufficiency rating of 2 on a 100-point scale, well below the threshold of 50 for priority replacement.
Both steel-truss bridges carry the same fracture critical classification as the Skagit River bridge, meaning a major structural failure could cause them to collapse as the Skagit span did after an oversized tractor-trailer struck a support beam. The bridges are also classified as functionally obsolete, meaning their designs are outdated compared with current standards.
But the Puyallup River bridge is also classified as structurally deficient, meaning it requires replacement of some or all of the structure.
Vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds are restricted to the right lane, a limit imposed in January 2011 after a routine state inspection revealed floor beam deterioration.
Final designs for the new bridge were requested last week, and the engineering firms have 12 weeks to submit their proposals, Clarke said.
The state expects to finish the project in late 2015. An environmental review is nearly complete, and the state is working to acquire permits and right of way from private property owners, as well as from the city of Puyallup and Pierce County.
The state also is working with Pierce and King counties to relocate the historic span to a new location on the Foothills Trail between Enumclaw and Buckley over the White River. Funding is still needed, he said.
The Puyallup 167 bridge is one of more than 3,000 bridge structures in the state highway system. Federal requirements call for inspections at least every two years, unless conditions warrant more frequent attention.
SEARCHING FOR MILROY FUNDING
The Milroy Bridge, jointly owned by Pierce County and the city of Fife, is another highly traveled, low-rated structure in the Puyallup Valley. While in better shape than the Puyallup River bridge, it has a sufficiency rating of just 37.75.
Its currently being studied for possible replacement as part of the Canyon Road northerly extension, said county bridge engineering supervisor Kraig Shaner.
Previous estimates pegged the replacement cost at $15 million to $20 million. The county is working on updated estimates.
Jerry Bryant, a field engineering manager with the county, said in an earlier interview with The News Tribune that the Milroy Bridge wont be replaced for more than six years due to a lack of funding. Eventually, the old bridge will be decommissioned and a new span erected upstream, Shaner said.
The structure carries an average of about 10,400 vehicles daily.
The narrow two-lane span is the only county-owned steel-truss bridge. There is no weight limit, but it has a height limit of 14 feet, 6 inches.
Bennett said she uses the bridge to get to work in Federal Way and often watches large trucks some that take up the entire width of the structure attempt to cross it.
Im just really concerned about the weight limits, she said. Its too old not to have weight limits.
Fife already restricts large trucks from accessing the Milroy Bridge on the North Levee Road side. The county is also working to address oversized vehicles, Shaner said.
Weve started looking at what we can do from a regulatory standpoint to either restrict lengths or something of that nature, he said. The height loads havent been an issue on that bridge.
The structural integrity of the Milroy Bridge is not a safety concern, Shaner said.
Every two years we climb all over that thing, he said. Its an all-day inspection with an under-bridge inspection truck. We look at everything up close and personal.
Nevertheless, county flood management plan documents from 2011 show the span does not meet federal standards in case of a major flood. Floating debris could hang up on the bridge, even if the levees hold, and the bridge could be damaged or destroyed, a report says.
Shaner said the county is aware of the flood standards as it continues to work toward replacing the bridge.
COMMUTERS NEED NOT WORRY
Construction of the Puyallup River bridge at SR 167 is scheduled to begin in summer 2014. Clarke, the states engineer, said the work wont disrupt traffic; both directions will remain open as the new span is built downstream, to the west.
At its completion, southbound traffic will permanently reroute to the new structure and northbound traffic will use the existing concrete bridge, the other side of the structure that currently carries vehicles south.
Clarke said the goal is to widen the concrete side to five lanes as part of the completion of SR 167 from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma a long-awaited project still in play as state lawmakers try to wrap up their work this year.
Although the old bridge is rated low and replacement is still a few years away, Clarke said commuters dont need to worry about driving on it.
It would not be open to traffic if we felt that it was unsafe, he said.
Kari Plog: 253-597-8682
COMPARING THE BRIDGES
Puyallup River at SR 167
Year built: 1925
Daily crossings: 18,000
Sufficiency rating*: 2
Replacement timeline: Late 2015
Cost: $31 million
Year built: 1931
Daily crossings: 10,400
Sufficiency rating*: 37.75
Replacement timeline: Unknown
* On a scale of 1 to 100, with low numbers indicating worse sufficiency.
** Previous estimates put the cost at $15 million to $20 million, but those are out of date.