The concrete bridge, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), has a long history in Pierce County. Built in 1934, the bridge is part of State Route 162 that connects Orting to Sumner. WSDOT officials have said the bridge is functionally obsolete and a new bridge needs to be built. WSDOT plans to build a new bridge just east of the McMillin Bridge then tear down the historic bridge.
Historic preservationists throughout Washington State and beyond argue the bridge is historically significant because it was designed by Homer M. Hadley, 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.
The McMillin Bridge’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places is only an honorary designation with little regulatory bearing other than what is known as “Section 106” of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. In the case of the McMillin Bridge, Section 106 requires that a federal agency consult with a range of stakeholders to determine if demolishing the bridge will have any adverse effects. Because the McMillin Bridge crosses a body of water, the Puyallup River, the lead federal agency in this case is the United States Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE). In the end, it’s the Corps that will get to decide whether to issue the permit allowing the new bridge to be built and the old bridge to come down. The ACOE is expected to make a decision later this year.
In February, Pierce County’s Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission approved a nomination prepared by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation to place the bridge on the county’s register of historic places. The nomination was then forwarded to Pierce County Council’s Rules and Operations Committee. That committee made a do-pass recommendation on May 6 for the full Pierce County Council to approve a proposed ordinance to place the bridge on the county’s register of historic places.
The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation notes the bridge is an example of “engineering in its most creative, artistic expression. That is to say, the McMillin Bridge is a work of art representing engineering at its finest.”
“In terms of putting it on the local register, it’s not as much about saving it as it is about acknowledging, again, the significance of this bridge to not just the state, not just regionally, but to the county as an important historic element of the county,” Washington Trust for Historic Preservation Field Director Chris Moore told the Tacoma Daily Index in February. “The bridge not being on it is really an omission up to this point.
“On the regulatory side, local ordinances are the ones that have regulatory purview, regulatory teeth, if you will,” added Moore. “One hope is that by having it listed [on the Pierce County register], its future treatment will go through a process that requires full consideration of it as a historic artifact, as a historic resource. The national register confers no protections whatsoever like that. But listed locally, it ensures there will at least be a process whereby consideration must be given for its future use.”
Pierce County Council is scheduled to consider the ordinance to place the McMillin Bridge on the county’s register of historic places during its meeting on Tues., May 21 at 5:30 p.m. at the Anna Lemon Wheelock Library, located at 3722 North 26th Street, in Tacoma. UPDATE: Pierce County Council is expected to hold a final hearing on the issue on Tues., June 18.
To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of historic McMillin Bridge, click on the following links:
- Pierce County Council committee OKs historic McMillin Bridge nomination (Tacoma Daily Index, May 7, 2013);
- Pierce County Council committee to consider historic McMillin Bridge nomination (Tacoma Daily Index, May 2, 2013);
- Pierce County Commission OKs landmark nomination for historic McMillin Bridge (Tacoma Daily Index, Feb. 21, 2013);
- Public hearing scheduled for McMillin Bridge historic landmark nomination (Tacoma Daily Index, Jan. 15, 2013);
- Tacoma Daily Index Top Stories — 2012 (Tacoma Daily Index, Jan. 2, 2013);
- Year In Review: Saving McMillin Bridge (Tacoma Daily Index, Dec. 17, 2012);
- Fearing its demolition, preservationists nominate McMillin Bridge to Pierce County’s historic register(Tacoma Daily Index, Nov. 16, 2012);
- Pierce County’s historic McMillin Bridge has lasted almost 80 years. Can it survive WSDOT? (Tacoma Daily Index, Sept. 7, 2012);
- Future uncertain for historic McMillin Bridge (Tacoma Daily Index, May 9, 2011).
For more information about Homer M. Hadley, the McMillin Bridge, and WSDOT’s project, click on the following links:
- WSDOT’S McMillin Bridge project website
- WSDOT’s McMillin Bridge public documents website
- Historic American Engineering Record’s McMillin Bridge photographs and drawings
- HistoryLink.org’s Homer M. Hadley Biography
- Washington Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Most Endangered List”
Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengers; third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright; and second-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State. His work has also appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.