Inslee uses Puyallup bridge visit to highlight state infrastructure needs

Gov. Jay Inslee got a glimpse of the state Route 167 Puyallup River Bridge replacement project Wednesday and delivered a clear, familiar message: It’s time to fix the state’s aging infrastructure.

Following a tour of the construction site for the state Department of Transportation project, Inslee said the Legislature needs to pass a transportation-improvement package to fund repairs of severely outdated bridges like the historic structure in Pierce County’s third-largest city.

“We’ve got a lot of old bridges to be put out to pasture,” he said.

The governor and other state and local officials also used Wednesday’s tour to highlight the need for extending SR 167, a long-awaited effort to finish the highway through the Port of Tacoma.

“The Washington economy struggles when there are roads to nowhere and people stuck in congestion,” said Puyallup City Manager Kevin Yamamoto. “We need that done, and we need that done this go-around.”

Ahead of Inslee’s appearance, lawmakers approved a compromise $7.6 billion transportation budget that will keep state ferries moving, the State Patrol on the road and continue road- and bridge-repair projects into the next fiscal year.

But a transportation package for new projects won’t be voted on before the special session ends Thursday, despite proposals by both the House and the Senate.

The $31.2 million replacement project in Puyallup is scheduled for completion this fall.

The bridge carries an average of about 18,000 vehicles daily, 10 percent of which are trucks, said DOT spokeswoman Claudia Bingham Baker. It is the main link between North Meridian, River Road and SR 167.

The old steel-truss bridge was built in 1925 and is classified as functionally obsolete and structurally deficient, meaning its design is outdated and it is below the state's desired rating for replacement of some or all of the structure. It is also deemed fracture-critical, meaning a major structural failure could cause the entire span to collapse.

The bridge, which carries a sufficiency rating of 2 out of 100, will be replaced with steel-plate girder structure with a concrete deck. No new lanes are planned, but future expansion is possible if funds become available.

The bridge will have wider lanes and shoulders, as well as an 8-foot sidewalk for safer bicycle and pedestrian access.

At the project’s completion, northbound traffic will be permanently rerouted to the new structure, and southbound traffic will use the existing concrete bridge, which runs parallel and currently carries vehicles south.

During construction, road closures mostly have been avoided. One weekend closure is planned for August, once the new structure opens to traffic in early July, so crews can move the old span off the job site.

The old bridge will be temporarily stored in nearby forest area. Bingham Baker said the hope is to repurpose it, but an agency has yet to step forward to coordinate and pay for that.

“It’s going to be expensive to rehabilitate and reuse,” she said.

Project planning started in spring 2013, well before the collapse of the Interstate 5 Skagit River bridge near Mount Vernon heightened awareness of low-rated bridges statewide.

The state secured federal funding for the Puyallup project after a 2011 inspection revealed diminished conditions on the already low-rated structure. The state threshold for priority replacement is a rating of 50 or lower.

Prior to that, heavy truck traffic was already limited.

Those restrictions will be lifted upon completion of the new bridge, Bingham Baker said.

Inslee said he admires the creativity of Atkinson Construction and others on the Puyallup project, and even quipped about workers’ expertise at moving the old span.

“They’re so good at moving that bridge I might hire them to move the Legislature,” he said, laughing. 

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