Damaged Puyallup River bridge reopens, unfixed

A bridge spanning the Puyallup River that closed after a crash Sunday reopened in time for the Monday afternoon commute.

The bridge connects Tacoma and Fife, linking Puyallup Avenue and Eells Street in the west to Pacific Highway in the east.

On Sunday afternoon, a pickup crashed into a diagonal steel piece that helps support the weight of the bridge. The pickup also rear-ended a Tacoma police cruiser and may have sideswiped other vehicles during an apparent medical episode, said police spokeswoman Loretta Cool.

Assistant Public Works director Jeff Jenkins said the damage was not significant enough to continue the closure.

“(The damage) is not significant enough for it to be repaired immediately,” Jenkins said. “We will address it when we get funding to repair the bridge.”

Weight restrictions on the bridge have been in place since 2009, but those restrictions initially allowed mass transit and tractor-trailers with an empty load. In May, the city lowered the weight restriction, prohibiting buses, most emergency vehicles and empty tractor-trailers.

City officials said earlier this year it would cost $150 million to replace the bridge — money the city doesn’t have. Tacoma has just $38 million from federal, state and port money to replace two of the bridge’s six spans.

Jenkins said the city might also receive $8 million in federal money to replace a third span. The steel piece damaged Sunday night is not on any span funded for near-term replacement.

The bridge was built in 1927, and an inspection earlier this year noted that corrosion and rust had eroded gusset plates to the width of a “knife edge.” A gusset plate joins the bridge’s structural members together, allowing the bridge to hold the weight of the deck and traffic.

The Puyallup River bridge is considered “structurally deficient” under the National Bridge Inventory criteria. The bridge has a sufficiency rating of 17.6 out of 100 — worse than 99.3 percent of all bridges in the state, according to the inventory and a recent bridge inspection report.

An entry in the national bridge inventory says 17,800 vehicles took the bridge every day in 2010. That count included 400 trips from now-prohibited vehicles.

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