Top Stories 2014: #7 — Future plans for historic McMillin Bridge

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Tacoma Daily Index is looking back at the 10 most popular and most read articles among visitors to our Web site. Enjoy!

It wasn’t that long ago the 80-year-old McMillin Bridge near Orting was slated to come down.

Three years ago, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) intended to tear down the old bridge as part of a plan to build a larger bridge nearby (see “Future uncertain for historic McMillin Bridge,” Tacoma Daily Index, May 9, 2011). Historic preservationists throughout Washington State were motivated to write letters to WSDOT and Pierce County Council asking for the state-owned bridge to be spared. Two years ago, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation nominated the bridge to Pierce County’s Register of Historic Places (see “Fearing its demolition, preservationists nominate McMillin Bridge to Pierce County’s historic register,” Tacoma Daily Index, Nov. 16, 2012). One year later, the bridge was added to Pierce County’s Register of Historic Places (see “McMillin Bridge added to Pierce County historic register,” Tacoma Daily Index, June 19, 2013). The following month, WSDOT announced it would back off on its plan to demolish the historic structure (see “WSDOT halts plan to tear down historic McMillin Bridge,” Tacoma Daily Index, July 18, 2013).

The concrete span with walk-through arced trusses was built in 1934 and designed by Homer M. Hadley, a man who is well-known among bridge engineers and local historians, and whose work contributed to bridges spanning rivers, lakes and creeks throughout Washington State. Hadley pushed for the state to build a floating concrete bridge across Lake Washington. Today, the westbound span of the Interstate 90 floating bridge is officially named the Homer M. Hadley Memorial Bridge. Hadley died in 1967 at the age of 82. In 1982, Hadley was posthumously recognized for his engineering acumen when the McMillin Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places — a designation that proved to be more honorary than regulatory 30 years later.

Fast-forward to today, and the transportation agency still intends to build a new bridge nearby. But WSDOT and the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) are currently negotiating an agreement that will lay out a plan for managing the landmark bridge into the future. This summer, WSDOT invited a group of stakeholders (also known as “consulting parties” — the group includes representatives of WSDOT, Pierce County, DAHP, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, bridge historians, architectural historians, and historic preservationists) to submit their questions and comments regarding future plans for the historic bridge. (note: WSDOT has posted written comments, site plans, and other related documents online here).

WSDOT has proposed installing bollards at both ends of the McMillin Bridge to prevent motor vehicle access; performing safety inspections every two years; repairing the bridge as funding is available; removing the roadway that approaches the bridge; and providing an access route to allow Pierce County to maintain the levee.

The consulting parties would like to see more, such as a long-term plan that includes graffiti and litter removal, interpretive signs, and incorporation of the bridge into the nearby Foothills Trail, which is owned and operated by Pierce County. The county has said it does not want to take over ownership and responsibility of the bridge.

“WSDOT has only just submitted a draft management plan to our agency for review, so the process is in its preliminary stages,” DAHP Historic Preservation Officer Dr. Allyson Brooks told the Tacoma Daily Index in November (see “Historic McMillin Bridge: Preservationists, WSDOT plan future for Pierce County landmark,” Tacoma Daily Index, Nov. 5, 2014). “We expect the process will involve consultation among numerous parties with an interest in the bridge, followed by discussions with WSDOT regarding its responsibilities and approach to preservation and long-term management.”

As far as when that agreement and management plan will be completed, Brooks added, “We have no expectations on time frames at this point. WSDOT has the lead.”

Still, planning for the bridge’s future is better than fearing for its demolition.

“We’re thrilled to see the bridge is remaining,” Washington Trust for Historic Preservation Executive Director Chris Moore told the Tacoma Daily Index last month (see “Historic McMillin Bridge: Preservationists, WSDOT plan future for Pierce County landmark,” Tacoma Daily Index, Nov. 5, 2014). “What’s still unclear is the degree to which the steps they have outlined so far will encourage usability or provide for long-term maintenance. It’s one thing to throw up bollards, but is there a plan that will encourage recreational use? I’m confident that we can get there. We’re certainly happy at this first effort. What WSDOT is talking about now is a really good starting point. There’s more work to be done.”

Pierce County’s historic McMillin Bridge. (PHOTOS COURTESY HISTORIC AMERICAN ENGINEERING RECORD / NATIONAL PARK SERVICE)

Pierce County’s historic McMillin Bridge. (PHOTOS COURTESY HISTORIC AMERICAN ENGINEERING RECORD / NATIONAL PARK SERVICE)

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of historic McMillin Bridge, click on the following links:

For more information about Homer M. Hadley, the McMillin Bridge, and WSDOT’s project, click on the following links:

To read a monthly breakdown of the Tacoma Daily Index‘s most read articles of 2014, click on the following links:

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index, an award-winning journalist, and author of A Reporter At Large: A decade of Tacoma interviews, feature articles, and photographs. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.