by: Kevin McCarty Updated:
Fox Island, Wash. - The only bridge linking Fox Island to the Gig Harbor area needs to be replaced after underwater inspections revealed wear on crucial concrete supports.
The inspection found holes and gaps on concrete joints poured when the bridge was built nearly 60 years ago. The discovery lowered the bridge's sufficiency rating from 33 last year to 7.33 out of a possible 100. According to federal standards a bridge should be replaced if it rates 50 or below. The Skagit River bridge spanning I-5 rated a 57.4 before it collapsed in late May after a truck struck an iron support beam. But Pierce County engineers said the lowered rating does not mean the Fox Island bridge poses a danger to drivers. "The bridge is safe," said bridge engineering supervisor Kraig Shaner.
Replacing the bridge is not cheap, and it won't happen anytime soon according to Pierce County engineer Brian Stacy. "If you wanted a sense of magnitude, it's in the $50 million range," said Stacy. "It's a fairly significant structure." Stacy said at the earliest, a new bridge won't be built for about a decade. He also said at the time there is not yet a plan to replace the bridge. He said the county will seek federal funding, among other options, to pay for a new structure, adding the new lower sufficiency rating could actually help because it makes building a new bridge more of a priority to federal highway officials.
In the meantime engineers said their plan is to keep the bridge open to Fox Island residents and make sure it's safe. "Continue monitoring, keep an eye on it and we'll see what happens in the future," said Shaner.
The bridge is the only way on or off Fox Island. Before it was built in 1954, residents relied on ferries to cross to and from the mainland. But the old ferry docks are long gone. Gig Harbor resident Todd Diraddo, whose father lives on Fox Island, said keeping the bridge or getting a new one in its place is important. "Yeah there's no other way to get across. You'll be stuck on the island if you don't have that bridge," said Diraddo.