More money needed for $32.5M Puyallup River Bridge replacement

The City of Tacoma is still trying to figure out how to pay for the first phase of a $80 million project to replace the 86-year-old, 2,453-foot-long Puyallup River Bridge, according to a presentation by City staff earlier this month.

Public works traffic engineer Kurtis Kingsolver presented an update on the plan during Tacoma City Council’s environment and public works committee meeting on April 13 and reported that $24 million has been raised for the $32.5 million project: $12.6 million in Federal highway bridge funds; $1.4 million in local Tacoma funds; $5 million in Federal Surface Transportation funds; and $5 million from the Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board by way of the Puget Sound Regional Council. This only covers the first phase of the three-phase project. Two later phases would cost $4.4 million and $44 million, respectively.

He added that the bridge’s cable-stay design is 80 percent complete and should be finished by November, the environmental review is 80 percent complete, and permitting still requires approval by the Puyallup Tribe. Because the project is unfunded, a construction schedule does not exist. Still, if it is fully funded, construction on the first phase of the project would last 18 months and call for the bridge to be closed for one year.

The committee was last briefed on the project in 2008. At that time, city project manager Jim Parvey said two bridge sections totalling 800 feet, located just east of Portland Avenue, and spanning a set of railroad tracks operated by Burlington Northern Santa Fe, need the most attention because the main deficiencies are failed columns supported by wood and steel shoring. Two designs for this section of the bridge were proposed: a steel arch bridge with concrete girders, and a cable-stay bridge. However, Parvey said, the steel structure would not provide the vertical clearance needed for track improvements Burlington Northern Santa Fe would like to complete in order to more efficiently move freight in and out of the Port of Tacoma. During that meeting the council committee approved a do-pass recommendation for the cable-stay bridge design.

The Puyallup River Bridge stretches from Portland Avenue, across railroad tracks and the Puyallup River, and into Fife.

During this month’s meeting, Tacoma City Councilmember Jake Fey asked about the urgency of completing the first phase — if not the entire project.

“We are under a lot of pressure right now from the Puget Sound Regional Council and others to either move the project forward or give the money back,” said Public Works Director Richard McKinley. One idea is to include bridge costs in an upcoming bond issuance. “We’re under a pretty good pressure right now to not lose this money.”