Pierce County Commission OKs landmark nomination for historic McMillin Bridge

The Pierce County Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission voted Tuesday to nominate the 79-year-old McMillin Bridge to the county's register...

The Pierce County Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission voted Tuesday to nominate the 79-year-old McMillin Bridge to the county’s register of historic places.

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.

The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation nominated the bridge to the county register in November. The organization noted 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.”

The landmarks commission’s action Tuesday to recommend the bridge be nominated to the county register will now be forwarded to Pierce County Council’s Economic and Infrastructure Development Committee. A final decision to add the bridge to the county register will need to be made by the full Pierce County Council.

“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,” said Washington Trust for Historic Preservation Field Director Chris Moore. “Given that this is the Pierce County Landmarks Commission, it’s their purview to maintain that county record. 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], it’s 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’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:

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