Historic Tacoma elevated roadway being demolished. ‘It became a safety hazard’

TACOMA, Wash. — The East 11th Street viaduct that connected the Port of Tacoma with the western half of the Tideflats is being demolished after it began dropping chunks of concrete, causing the city of Tacoma to declare it a hazard.

On Thursday, about a third of the 2,000-foot-long steel-supported viaduct, which runs from Milwaukee Way to Stewart Street, was missing or in rubble. Machines, including one that cuts the metal columns like gigantic tin snips, were tearing apart the structure.

The viaduct connects with a truss bridge over the Puyallup River. The bridge is not part of the project.

The bridge and viaduct — essentially an elevated roadway — carried over 2,000 vehicles daily before being closed in 2014. The bridge was deemed unsafe due to poor structural integrity.

The bridge was built in 1912, according to newspaper stories on file at Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room. Stories from that era don’t give a firm date on the viaduct’s construction, but the city estimates it was built in the 1930s.

The viaduct doesn’t look like modern elevated roads. The concrete, 4-lane roadway was supported by steel I-beams. It has an average clearance of 25 feet underneath it.

The viaduct began its approach to the bridge at ground level, adjacent to the Port of Tacoma’s administration building. Employees parked beneath it.

It bisects the West Sitcum terminal, leased by SSA Marine. Its removal could facilitate shipping activities between the two halves, according to Matthew Mauer, the port’s government affairs manger. Taller port equipment, like lifts that carry shipping containers, were unable to pass below the viaduct.

The port worked around and underneath it until it began raining concrete in 2021.

“There were chunks of concrete that were actually falling from the bridge,” Mauer said. “Even with no traffic on it. It became a safety hazard.”

“I have a chunk on my desk that’s about 18 inches long by 6 inches wide,” said demolition project manager Steve Carstens on Thursday. He’s employed in the city’s Public Works Department.

After an inspection, the city declared an emergency in February. Demolition began March 30.

PUYALLUP RIVER BRIDGE

The 1912 bridge that still spans the Puyallup River was once a vertical lift bridge, like the nearby Murray Morgan Bridge, and carried a trolley line in its early days. It was converted to a fixed span in 1979.

The Puyallup waterway does not have shipping associated with it and there are no plans to change that, Mauer said. Instead, international shipping is mostly curtained to the Blair Waterway while the Sitcum Waterway is mostly used for domestic shipping.

The 2014 viaduct and bridge closure reduced options for trucks headed to and from the port. The closest bridge over the Puyallup is now the Lincoln Avenue bridge, 4,000 linear feet south and a roughly 2-mile-long detour.

The closure of the East 11th Street bridge also increased travel time for emergency responses and evacuations from the heart of the port.

COST

The demolition project has a budget of $7 million. Atkinson Construction is the primary contractor.

The port and the city are sharing the costs.

“We’re in negotiation with an interlocal agreement for that cost sharing aspect of it,” Mauer said. “But it’s not been formally approved by the (port) commission or the (city) council yet.”

The viaduct’s metal parts are being recycled, Carstens said. Concrete is being pulverized and recycled as well.

CORRIDOR FUTURE

The current demolition will stop between Stewart Avenue and the river bank, leaving about 100 feet of viaduct, Carstens said.

There are no immediate plans to demolish the truss bridge, Carstens said. The port’s main water supply line is attached to the bridge, complicating matters.

There are plans to eventually replace the bridge with a modern version and build a taller elevated road to replace the viaduct. The taller height, about 60 feet, would allow shipping equipment to pass underneath it.

The final section of viaduct passes over the Puyallup Tribe’s boat launch into the Puyallup River. When demolition is complete a protective barrier will be built underneath the remaining viaduct to catch any falling debris, Carstens said.

In the meantime, the cleared area nearest the port’s administration building is now a temporary gravel parking lot punctuated by the remains of the viaduct’s footings, now just 18-inch-high stubs above ground but much deeper below.

“What you see above ground is just a small portion,” Carstens said. “It’s like an iceberg, basically.”

Demolition should be complete by fall.

This story was originally published by The News Tribune.