Construction on northbound bridge over Puyallup River moving forward

Construction of a new northbound bridge over the Puyallup River could be underway by January now that the state has reached an agreement with the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.

The $305 million project, part of a major makeover of Interstate 5 through downtown Tacoma, has been held up for two years by negotiations on how to prevent the work from affecting the river’s water quality and disrupting the tribe’s fishing access.

The concerns were smoothed out in a 74-page agreement that gives the tribe $9.5 million for project impacts and three parcels of land worth $3.8 million.

“We identified a number of impacts the project would have on the Puyallup tribe,” said John Wynands, an assistant region administrator for program development for the state Department of Transportation.

Spokesman John Weymer said the tribe is pleased with how negotiations turned out.

“The tribe feels satisfied with the agreement,” he said.

Building the bridge means placing pillars in the water, which could endanger fish habitat and prevent Puyallup fisherman from casting in areas they’re accustomed to fishing.

Temporary roads will need to be built to move in heavy equipment. In addition, traffic to the tribal governance and economic center is expected to increase.

The bridge and its approach will be constructed on land the Puyallups consider culturally significant.

The $9.5 million paid to the tribe is intended to compensate for those factors but the Transportation Department also agreed to avoid scheduling construction during the open fishing seasons.

The seasons typically extend from mid-May to June, mid-August to mid-October and mid-November to early January.

The contractor must place floating booms in the river to direct marine traffic to the center of the river and keep an 80-foot-wide channel when traffic restrictions are not in place.

Two parcels of land will be granted to the tribe at the beginning of the project. One will not be handed over until the southbound bridge is complete.

The biggest piece of land is a 10-acre wetland mitigation site constructed by the Transportation Department off River Road. Just uphill from the Emerald Queen Casino, it includes a river channel for fish habitat.

The second parcel is a right-of-way along state Route 167 that abuts the casino parking lot. Because the state didn’t envision a use for that chunk of land, it agreed to give it to the tribe.

The third piece of land is along the riverbank under the existing southbound I-5 bridge. Once the project is complete, Wynands said, the state no longer will need the land.

And because the parcel is adjacent to property the Puyallups already own, the tribe could make better use of it, he said.

Now that the agreement has been reviewed by the state Attorney General’s Office, the construction of the northbound bridge can move forward.

The Transportation Department put out a bid for contractors earlier this month and expects work to begin in January. The project should take three years. The work is budgeted for $305 million, and is funded through proceeds from the 2005 gas tax.

Cost for a southbound bridge project is estimated at $250 million.

The new bridges will be wider and straighter than the existing spans, according to the state’s plans.