Construction to begin soon on Steilacoom’s closed Saltar’s Point Bridge

For two years, roadblocks have been commonplace on Champion Street at Saltar’s Point Bridge in Steilacoom.

More barriers went up last week, closing off the road and signaling to neighbors that the damaged bridge will soon be replaced with a new, improved structure.

For once, the roadblocks are a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

“They’re finally glad to see something happening and getting done,” said Thomas Kurtz of the neighborhood reaction to the construction.

Kurtz lives roughly 50 feet from the bridge. His driveway has at times become part of the staging area for the construction. On Wednesday, a crane was assembled. It will be used to bring in the new structure’s piles and remove the old bridge. Pile driving could begin by the end of the month.

Gus Melonas, spokesman for BNSF Railway that owns the bridge, confirmed construction could begin later this month or early October. A completion date is less firm, but he said people can expect to see the new structure complete “by the year’s end at the latest.”

Design details of the bridge are not being made public by the railway, Melonas said, but he described it as a steel structure that has viewing platforms for the public. It will be “enhanced” compared to the existing bridge and will be accessible as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Melonas said construction isn’t expected to affect the roughly 60 trains that pass under the bridge daily.

Steilacoom Mayor Ron Lucas said he was told the bridge would be done by the end of October. That’s the same information neighbors were given by construction workers at the site, according to Kurtz who was told work could wrap at the end of October or early November depending on weather.

For those familiar with the Steilacoom-DuPont Road Bridge, Lucas said the bridge going into Saltar’s Point Park will be similar in appearance. The structure will look rusted, but it’s not, he said.

The bridge and 500-feet of public shoreline it connects to have been closed since fall of 2012 when a passing train clipped a cable on the pedestrian bridge leading to the beach.

Neighbors had hoped to see the bridge reopen and access to the park return by 2013. When that didn’t happen, they became frustrated. In February, they attended a Town Council meeting as a group, asking for an update.

Steilacoom has actively worked with the railroad to get the bridge replaced, but because it doesn’t own the structure it couldn’t control the pace of the project, Lucas said. Despite neighborhood frustrations over what residents said felt like slow progress, town officials were pleased with their working relationship with BNSF, he said.

“I am sure there are individuals that are frustrated by the whole thing, but it’s the rhythm of doing business with an agency that is a pretty huge organization,” Lucas said.

The town has planned a second phase of work for the site once the bridge is built. It includes improving the entrance to the bridge and the park below with landscaping and new fencing, according to Lucas.

And because the park has been closed for two years, town officials say the picnic shelter and two stone buildings built in the 1930s will need to be cleaned up before the public can use the park.

“I expect we’re going to have a little bit of work to do,” Lucas said. “It’s going to take time and energy to do that. But we’re all set up to do it.”

Once the bridge is complete, BNSF is expected to transfer ownership of the new structure to the town.