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Aging Fox Island Bridge: Replace it or repair it?

The 62-year-old Fox Island Bridge was deemed “structurally deficient” by Pierce Countyin 2013 after an inspection found damage to underwater concrete footings. The bridge remains safe for now, but the county must decide whether to replace or rehabilitate it.
The 62-year-old Fox Island Bridge was deemed “structurally deficient” by Pierce Countyin 2013 after an inspection found damage to underwater concrete footings. The bridge remains safe for now, but the county must decide whether to replace or rehabilitate it. The Peninsula Gateway/FILE 2013

Three years after declaring the Fox Island Bridge structurally deficient, Pierce County must decide its next step: Replace the bridge or rebuild it?

Both choices come with price tags in the millions, but a short-term fix would be significantly cheaper than the estimated $130 million needed to build a new bridge.

“We’re just getting a grasp on the options,” said Jerry Bryant, field engineering manager with Pierce County Public Works. “If you rehabilitate it, you’re going to get 10 to 15 years out of the bridge and then you’re still going to need to replace it.”

Rehabilitation costs are estimated at $20 million, according to Bryant.

Before making a decision, the county wants to hear from the more than 3,500 Fox Island residents who depend on the bridge to get to and from the Gig Harbor peninsula.

The county has scheduled an open house from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday (Aug. 2) at the Nichols Community Center, 690 Ninth Avenue.

Feedback from the community, including how people use the bridge and a preference for rebuilding or retrofitting, will guide the county in its decision.

For the first 45 minutes of the meeting people can walk around and ask questions. After that, HDR Engineering, the company the county hired to study the bridge, will give a presentation and a question and answer period will follow.

The 1,950-foot-long-bridge’s sufficiency rating dropped to 7.33 on a 100-point scale in 2013.

The county designated the 1,950-foot-long-bridge structurally deficient in 2013 after an underwater inspection found holes several feet deep in the bridge’s concrete foundation footings.

After the inspection the bridge’s sufficiency rating dropped to 7.33 on a 100-point scale, well below the threshold of 50 for priority replacement.

Improvements have been made to the bridge, but the 7.33 rating remains. The bridge has posted weight limits because of its “deficient” status.

The two-lane bridge was built in 1954, replacing a ferry that ran eight times a day. It attracted more people to the residential island. The bridge was built to last about 50 years.

The county has designated it “functionally obsolete” because it is only 22 feet wide from curb to curb.

“This bridge is meeting the end of its design life,” Bryant said.

HDR began studying the bridge in winter 2015. It looked at the cost to replace the bridge versus rebuilding it.

It has proposed a potential location and alignment of a new bridge and preliminary designs if the county chooses to replace the bridge.

If the county opts for rehabilitation, HDR outlined possible retrofit options.

How to pay for a new bridge or for improvements has not been decided, Bryant said.

“The purpose of the initial study is just to get an order of magnitude of potential impacts,” he said. “We’re just trying to get a handle on how to best proceed on to the next step.”

If the county chooses to build a new bridge, the next step is to complete a study to determine the type of bridge to build, its size and how and where it should be aligned across the water.

The study is not necessary if the county opts to rehabilitate the bridge.

A time line hasn’t been set for when to proceed but even if the county made a decision immediately, work would be slowed by federal and state permits and restrictions on when work can occur because of fish habitat.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467, @bgrimley

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