Fife backs Tacoma's Puyallup River Bridge project

The City of Fife has weighed in on a plan to replace a large portion of the aging Puyallup River Bridge by writing a letter of support in the hopes of helping the City of Tacoma secure more grant funding to close the project’s $13.7 million shortfall.

“The Puyallup River Bridge is very important to Fife businesses and residents, as it provides the most direct link between downtown Fife and the regional growth center in downtown Tacoma,” wrote Fife City Manager David K. Zabell in a March 15 letter to Tacoma Public Works Director Richard E. McKinley. “Pierce Transit has two bus routes through Fife and both use the bridge, as do its citizens who drive to the Park & Ride facility at the Tacoma Dome Transit Center. Fife’s hotel industry is also heavily dependent upon the proximity of the bridge to the Tacoma Dome. The Puyallup River Bridge serves as an important regional link in the two cities’ transportation network that has impact beyond their boundaries.”

In 2009, the City of Tacoma put load limits on the bridge for most commercial and industrial trucks: 18 tons for triple-axel trucks; 28 tons for five-axel trucks; and 36 tons for six-axel trucks. The 84-year-old, 2,453-foot-long Puyallup River Bridge is comprised of six connecting segments that stretch from Portland Avenue, across railroad tracks and the Puyallup River, and into Fife. In 2008, City staff reported two bridge sections needed the most attention because of major structural deficiencies such as failed columns supported by wood and steel shoring. A recent report shows one segment of the bridge has a sufficiency rating of seven; another segment has a sufficiency rating of 20 (a brand-new bridge would have a sufficiency rating of 100).

“Until deterioration forced the imposition of weight limits, the bridge carried national and international freight between the Burlington Northern rail yard and the Port of Tacoma’s industrial manufacturing center,” wrote Zabell. “Even now, with restrictions in place, the bridge is used as an alternate route during times when accidents or events have caused congestion on I-5.

“The bridge also carries the sanitary sewer force mains conveying flows from Fife to Tacoma’s Central Wastewater Treatment Plant,” added Zabell. “If the bridge were to fail in an earthquake, it would result not only in potential loss of life and certain major economic impact, but also in certain environmental damage.”

Earlier this month, Port of Tacoma Commissioners approved a plan to direct $500,000 originally set aside for the Hylebos Bridge Rehabilitation Project  toward the Puyallup River Bridge instead. To date, the City has raised approximately $25 million of the $38.7 million needed to replace the crumbling structure with a modern cable-stay bridge. But the Port’s contribution — and now the City of Fife’s letter of support — could foster more partnerships and open doors to more funding. The City recently applied for — but did not receive — a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant from the United States Department of Transportation. The City is once again applying for a TIGER grant and has approached the City of Fife and Burlington Northern Santa Fe for support, in addition to the Port. The City is also applying for a grant from the Puget Sound Regional Council.

So far, the City has received $12.6 million in Federal highway bridge funds; $1.4 million in local Tacoma funds; $6 million in Federal Surface Transportation funds; and $5 million from the Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board. Earlier this month, the City applied for $19.7 million from the Transportation Coordinating Committee — $6 million more than is needed because the City is at risk of losing $6 million received from the Puget Sound Regional Council two years ago if the money isn’t used by the end of this year, according to Public Works staff.

Last week, Deputy Mayor Joe Lonergan discussed the recent shows of support from the Port and Fife during Tacoma City Council’s committee of the whole meeting and full city council meeting. “As we seek funding to fill the nearly $14 million gap there, the Port of Tacoma stepped up with a half-million in support of that, which serves two purposes,” said Lonergan. “One is it is a half-million dollars, which is pretty obvious, and two is it further strengthens our ability to get funding to fill this gap. And it is a very, very important project obviously to the City of Tacoma, also to the port and it is our connection between the City of Tacoma and the City of Fife. I wanted to thank the City of Fife for their letter of support, which also serves the same purpose of strengthening our grant applications, making it a multijurisdictional effort to get funding for this bridge which is in desperate need of help.”

The Puyallup River Bridge project would replace two full segments and a portion of a third segment on the bridge’s west side with a new structure offering four lanes of traffic, eight-foot-wide sidewalks, and the vertical clearance for BNSF’s double-stack rail cars. Design work on the project is 90 percent complete, and the environmental phase is nearly complete. The City will spend the rest of this year securing right-of-way rights from BNSF, Union Pacific Railroad, the Puyallup Tribe and a private property owner.

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Port of Tacoma commission approves funding to help replace Puyallup River Bridge (03/16/12) —

Port of Tacoma could direct $500K toward City’s Puyallup River Bridge project (03/14/12) —

City Council OKs more funding for Puyallup River Bridge design (01/20/12) —

More funding needed for Puyallup River Bridge design (01/13/12) —

More money needed for $32.5M Puyallup River Bridge replacement (04/27/11) —

Load limits will soon be enforced on Eells Street Bridge —

Broken Link: Partnership sought for Puyallup River Bridge replacement (11/06/08)