Want a million dollars? Come get this Puyallup bridge

Photo from WSDOT Blog.

If you want a million dollars, read on.

No, really. The state Department of Transportation stands ready to write the check. Eager, in fact. Officials put up an ad and everything.

The catch, and it’s a rather large one, is that along with the money comes the obligation to properly care for the antique, 371-foot metal bridge that has stood astride the Puyallup River since 1925.

Also, there’s the small matter of its dismantling, moving and reassembling the span to adhere to historic-preservation standards.

“I don’t expect a bidding war,” said Transportation Department project manager Steve Fuchs, who is in the role of seller’s agent in the attempt to unload the property.

Hence the money attached, which under state estimates will cover just the cost of taking the bridge down.

For its first 90 years, it stood like the curve of a steel-trussed rainbow over the riverbanks, enduring the traffic of state Route 167 into and out of Puyallup.

Two years ago, citing deterioration and engineering improvements from sidewalks to seismic resilience, the state spent $31 million to build a new bridge and move the 379-ton old one a few yards out of the way to await its next life.

And there it sits today, like a cage for a white elephant, until someone takes the money and hauls it to a new home.

In the Puget Sound’s torrid real-estate market, where the idea of buyers’ incentives has just about gone out the window, most other large properties coming on the market are likelier to receive multiple bids than to come with a cash sweetener.

This bridge, however, is a special case. Historic-preservation laws require the state to try to find it a new home before simply blowtorching it to scraps.

Thus, the Transportation Department posted a blog entry Wednesday to hawk "this 92-year-old charmer," extolling its "parabolic top chords" and the "strength and economy of steel" in its design.

"Act now," the post urges, "to get your hands on this historic, well-behaved bridge that would get along fantastically with the rest of your bridges."

Transportation Department historian Craig Holstine said that because the bridge would qualify for the National Register of Historic Places, federal laws for its preservation came into play.

The state had no new use for the bridge that would have justified its maintenance cost; Pierce and King counties decided the same thing.

“Finding a new owner, its something that we’re required to do,” Holstine said, “but we’ve not been successful in doing it.”

Fuchs said he has heard from interested parties, at least preliminarily.

Assume it works out: someone — perhaps a city, county or particularly expansive homeowners’ association with a canyon to cross — accepts the bridge, takes the cash, hauls the span away and reconstructs it to match the work of the welders of yore.

There are two other, er, bridges yet to cross.

The first: attaching a floor. This property is steel-bridge only; no deck, no supports. You’d need to build your own to give its soaring steelwork a purpose other than aesthetics.

The second: bearing the maintenance cost. Surely those would not be minimal for a 92-year-old metal structure that has been stored outside and uncovered its entire life.

“It’s not haul it off and start cutting it into pieces,” Fuchs said.

If the law allowed scrapping immediately, the state could do that itself and keep the million bucks. Instead, it must give the bridge a fair shot at new life.

State and federal agencies agreed that setting a deadline of June 2019 for a taker to come forward would be sufficient, under preservation laws.

After that, it’s recycling time.

“They don’t require that the bridge be preserved,” said Holstine, the historian, “but they require an opportunity for historic preservation to happen.”

The department, he said, has overseen two similar projects: the 1963-68 move of the old steel bridge crossing the Columbia River at Vantage to the Snake River, and a smaller Lewis County project currently being negotiated.