Sunday, June 25, 2017 This Week's Paper

More funding flows into Puyallup River Bridge, but gap still remains

A bridge to replace the Puyallup River Bridge between Tacoma and Fife is a small step closer to breaking ground. It's now all just a matter of money.

"One problem is that the bridge is not fully funded," said City of Tacoma Project Manager Dan Soderlind.

The bridge is about $13 million short. The city has cobbled together about $25 million in city, state and federal grant dollars so far, but the project is estimated to cost about $38 million. City officials will be making calls to Fife and Puyallup Tribal officials for support in the effort to fund the project either through grants or municipal partnerships. And if history suggests a future, that price tag could go up.

The City of Tacoma recently added another $569,000 to the design contract for the 950-foot bridge segment. The addition came after the city added a previous $1.5 million to the contract in June. The current contract is about $3.5 million, about double the original deal.

The sticking point is trying to design a bridge that would not only extend over a major river system but also active railroad tracks that provide a main pipeline for Tacoma's Tideflats.

"There is lot of work that needs to go into this to do the work in segments," Soderlind said.

While the design firm David Evans and Associates works on figuring out the details about that, Tacoma is continuing negotiations with Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific Railroad to work out timelines and with the Puyallup Tribe of Nations for the purchase of the right of way since the planned, four-lane bridge will be wider than the three lanes on the current bridge.

The city also needs approval from the Army Corps of Engineers because it involves construction on environmentally sensitive areas.

The design, permit and right of way purchase work are set for completion by this summer. Depending on funding, the construction work could start after that and take about two years. The current bridge will remain open during the first year of construction, while the prefabricated parts are made and gathered nearby. The second year of construction will require the bridge to be closed so that it can be demolished and replaced by the new cable-stayed bridge over at the same location.

The 84-year-old bridge needs to be replaced because it is showing its age and also handling an increasing flow of traffic. Some 16,000 cars a day take the bridge from Portland Avenue to Fife's strip of Pacific Highway. The bridge is the main section of a five-bridge system that spans a total of 2,453 feet, which are all set to be replaced in the coming years. The total replacement cost is about $80 million.

The bridge, also known as the Eells Bridge, was named after Edwin Eells, who was an Indian Agent in the early days of Tacoma. The bridge is an extension of Eells Street that borders the Puyallup reservation.