Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson quipped this week that her community of 4,500 people will become a dead-end town come Friday.
Johnson wasn’t talking about economic prospects, but the town’s temporary weeklong status as the physical end of state Route 410, east Pierce County’s major transportation artery.
That status comes courtesy of the Washington State Department of Transportation. Beginning at 10 p.m. Friday, the department will close Route 410 at Buckley in Pierce County and on the other side of the White River at Enumclaw in King County.
The closure, due to end at noon April 23, will allow construction crews to replace and repair parts of the bridge damaged by an over-height truck last year. The state was never able to find the truck. The $1.8 million repair is being paid for with federal and state funds.
The closure, necessary to ensure the White River bridge’s long-term structural integrity, will create long commutes for drivers who live and work on opposite sides of the White River. Traveling from Buckley to Enumclaw, ordinarily a 10-minute, 3.6-mile drive, will take more than an hour and nearly 35 miles for the 20,000 vehicles that daily use the bridge.
The suggested detour directs travelers going from Buckley to Enumclaw through Bonney Lake, Sumner and Auburn on a long horseshoe-shaped route. That route involves both Route 410 and Route 167, which are among the busiest highways in the state during rush hours.
“We’re not looking forward to it,” Johnson said. “But it is what it is.”
Neither pedestrians nor bicyclists will be allowed to use the bridge during the closure. Emergency vehicles will be allowed if they notify the WSDOT a few minutes before their passage.
This will be the second time in the last year the state has closed Route 410 to make bridge repairs. Last year, after bridge inspectors discovered the bent and twisted metal bridge supports, the agency closed the bridge for temporary repairs. Now crews will remove those temporary fixes and replace them with new steel. Workers will heat other damaged pieces and twist them into their original shapes.
The contractor performing the repairs has begun preparations, reducing the two-lane bridge to one lane nightly to erect scaffolding.
The scheduling of the closure was the subject of negotiations between the Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce, Republican state Sen. Pam Roach of Sumner and the transportation department, said Troy Couch, the chamber’s executive director.
The original schedule called for closing the bridge on four consecutive weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. That would have disrupted Christmas shopping and celebrations and cut off easy access to the Crystal Mountain ski area from Pierce County during the critical holiday season.
“After the lack of snow that they had in the previous season, that would have been a devastating blow for Crystal and the nearby resorts,” Couch said.
The group picked next week for several reasons. It is spring break for the Enumclaw School District (though not for the White River School District on the Pierce County side of the river).
The springtime closure won’t affect the Chinook Pass route to Yakima, since it remains closed due to winter snows.
And the closure is expected to have minimal or little effect on Crystal Mountain, where the season ends this weekend. The resort has warned potential customers of the bridge closures and recommended they reach the mountain via Auburn.
Businesses and governments are taking extraordinary measures to cope, said Couch. Some businesses in Enumclaw are closing for the week. Others are allowing some employees to work from home.
The city of Buckley is suspending enforcement of its 72-hour limit on recreational vehicle parking to allow workers to live in their RVs for the week of the closure rather than enduring the commute.
Peter Erickson, co-owner of Performance Physical Therapy, said he expects the closure to be costly for his business, which has locations both in Enumclaw and Bonney Lake.
“The problem is really a nightmare for us,” he said. He expects his business will lose $6,000 to $12,000 during the closure. Erickson is paying his employees who live on the opposite side of river from where they work an extra hour of pay for the time spent commuting.
One Enumclaw business, the White River Credit Union, whose sole office is in King County, is offering its customers who live on the other side of the bridge a bonus if they brave the detour to do business.
Each of those customers will receive a T-shirt printed with an image of the bridge and the message, “Embrace the detours in life,” and “White River Bridge Detour.” On the back, is the slogan “Worth the detour.”
“We decided that we couldn’t avoid the closure, so we decided to embrace it,” said Brandy Fielding, the credit union’s chief executive.
Couch is avoiding the detour altogether. He’ll be vacationing in Florida next week.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663