Puyallup Herald

Puyallup plans to close Milwaukee Bridge for 18 months. Here’s where that traffic will go

Brace yourselves, Puyallup drivers.

A plan is in place to rehabilitate Milwaukee Bridge — also known as Veterans Bridge — across the Puyallup River at Milwaukee Avenue Northeast and Northeast 5th Street.

The $17 million project includes closing the bridge for up to 18 months and diverting traffic to detour routes along Valley Avenue Northeast to North Meridian Avenue at the state Route 167 exit ramps. That includes traffic from Benston Drive.

A closure date isn’t set — the city is awaiting permits — but project engineer Ted Hill hopes to be out to bid at the latest in September, which means potential construction early next year.

It’s not going to be pretty.

When asked what people can expect when the bridge closes, Hill was clear:

“More traffic congesting the roads than already is congesting the roads. We already know there’s a lot of traffic out there, and it’s not going to get any better with our detour route.”

The city has no other choice, Hill said.

“Either we rehab the bridge, (or we) replace it — which we can’t afford — or let it go so bad that we have to close it down permanently,” he said.

The bridge was built in 1962 by Pierce County before it was annexed by the city of Puyallup. In 2016, it was given a 19 out of 100 rating, according to National Bridge Inspection Standards.

“We keep on having to reduce the truck loading that can go across it,” Hill said. “Right now, it’s like the bridge is trying to beat itself apart, and we’re trying to stop it from beating itself apart.”

A study by DKS Associates in 2014 analyzed delays drivers would see at nearby intersections during the closure.

The intersections of North Meridian at Valley Avenue and River Road are predicted to see the most impact during the closure, with estimated delays of 46 seconds.

To mitigate the impacts, the city conducted signal modifications and phasing. With modifications, the expected delay at North Meridian and Valley Avenue should decrease to 15 seconds instead of 46.

The project involves redoing the box girders and adding beams to act as “braces” to strengthen the bridge. It should give it another 30 years of life, Hill said.

Some aren’t pleased with the direction the city is going.

Mike Stanzel, who owns a business near the bridge, is frustrated by what he sees as a lack of urgency over potential impacts of the project.

The city’s 2014 study doesn’t appear to address impacts to the city of Edgewood, emergency response times or use of the bridge as a volcanic eruption evacuation route, Stanzel said.

“The plan is dated at best, and I believe is more than optimistic regarding time delays, particularly at Valley Avenue and Meridian, which had an intersection Level of Service rating ‘D’ 5 years ago,” he said in an email.

Stanzel agrees that something should be done to fix the bridge but doesn’t see why it takes 18 months of full closure.

“What (the city) is doing is they’re making traffic work around them, and I don’t think that’s a good way to do business,” Stanzel said.

Hill said it comes down to money.

“Replacement was $25 million,” Hill said. “We couldn’t afford it then, and we couldn’t afford it now, so rehabilitation seemed like the best avenue to go.”

There is one public hearing for shoreline permitting of the project, but it has not yet been scheduled. Hill said the city is considering other forms of public input, similar to a public meeting held for the closure of Shaw Road last year.

Central Pierce Fire & Rescue said it’s aware of the project.

“Yes, it will take more time to reach some areas due to the closure and traffic, but as always, we will use the quickest route,” spokesman Darrin Shaw said in an email. “Once the bridge is closed will use N Meridian/Valley Ave NE/Milwaukee Ave E.”