Thanks to the good work of Atkinson Construction, the Washington State Department of Transportation and local leaders, the new Meridian Street Puyallup River Bridge is now open to traffic.
And it’s about time.
During my first month in the Legislature in 2011, we learned that deteriorating floorbeams on the old northbound bridge were potentially going to lead to truck restrictions. Thereafter, the Department of Transportation restricted truck travel to the northbound right lane.
The bridge was “the longest, simply supported, steel riveted Warren through truss span built prior to 1940 remaining on the Washington State highway system,” according to the state DOT.
When I tried to illustrate just how old the 1925 Puyallup River bridge is and how desperately it needed to be replaced, I pointed out that Ezra Meeker used the bridge.
Just after Meeker came out over the Oregon Trail in 1852, the county commissioners in the old Oregon Territory (all of the South Sound was part of Thurston County in those days) passed a resolution for a road linking Steilacoom and Seattle. According to W.P. Bonney’s history of Pierce County, three men went out to determine the route and they reported back to the county commissioners in March of 1853. They described one part of the route as “striking the Puyallup River one mile above Adam Benston’s claim, well marked and designated by marks on both sides of said river.”
And so that “well marked” place was put on the map.
We don’t know exactly where that point on the river was, since the river was eventually rerouted to prevent flooding. But it couldn’t have been far from where the old and new northbound bridges and the southbound span now stand.
There were early attempts to operate a toll bridge. But the primary way that people came in and out of Puyallup was a ferry that crossed the river.
The ferry was run by John and Anna Carson starting in the mid-1850s. In 1860 the Washington Territorial Legislature authorized John Carson to run the ferry on a contract, and when the county commission approved ferry rates in 1862 it cost 25 cents for a single passenger, 37 cents for a person and a horse, and 50 cents for a horse and buggy (with the opening of a new Puyallup River Crossing, I am very happy to report that it does not include tolls!).
On the north side of the river stands a big old chestnut tree near the Highway 167 on-ramp. It was planted by Anna Carson, who was Puyallup’s first school teacher. The first school house wasn’t far from that location.
I suppose that John and Anna Carson and a number of people who used that ferry or who drove across that bridge over the years would be proud to see the day late last month when the new bridge opened to drivers.
As for the old bridge, it will be preserved in accordance with historic preservation requirements.
It will be removed — carefully — and relocated for use on a trail system in the region.
Just as it was in the 1850s or the 1920s, the Puyallup river crossing will be our connection to the world and the world’s connection to us. They’ll come here to our Fair, our Farmer’s Market, our small farms, our car dealers, our schools, and our homes. And let us be a welcoming people, inspired by the heritage of generosity and kindness that dates back along the river long before the Carsons came here, to the first people of the Puyallup Tribe who called it home.
I am thankful for the wonderful new bridge and the people who put it in place. Our whole community will be better for it.
Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, is serving his third term in the Washington State House of Representatives from the 25th District, which includes Puyallup, Fife, South Hill, Summit, Waller, Midland and Parkland. He serves on the Transportation, Higher Education, Technology and Economic Development, and Early Learning and Human Services committees.