Once the star of a Super Bowl commercial, the Miller Bridge in Skykomish is now slated for demolition by King County.
Located approximately 1.5 miles northwest of town, the 228-foot bridge remains completely intact, but the section of the Old Cascade Highway leading to the bridge from the west was washed out during a severe storm in January 2011. After conducting a feasibility study, King County has determined that they do not have funds to rebuild the road, nor do they have funds to maintain the bridge. Not wanting it to become a safety issue, they will be requesting funds from FEMA for the removal of the bridge.
They will also request funds for improvements to the area which will enable them to build turnabouts on either side of the washout, and improve areas of the remaining west portion of the Old Cascade Highway.
King County Department of Transportation officials held a public meeting at the Maloney Store on April 20 to inform the Skykomish community of their plans and to get feedback.
In an overview of the meeting released by officials at the county, they stated; “This is a challenging site, and providing safe access with a new bridge would cost $17.5 million, which is beyond the financial means of King County.”
King County Road Engineering Service Manager Rick Brater explained that, even with money from FEMA, King County has no way of obtaining matching funds in an amount sufficient enough to support this project. Matching funds are a requirement when receiving assistance from FEMA.
King County also feels that it is difficult to justify the amount, with that section of the Old Cascade Highway being designated a low-traffic roadway with less than 200 cars per day.
During the storm in 2011, Miller River began to flood, expanding beyond its normal throughway. It started to migrate, and once the river destroyed the roadway, excessive debris caused it to become established in its new location. The section of highway was completely swept away by the strong current, and this is now where the majority of the river flows. The storm was a presidentially-declared emergency.
This section of the Old Cascade Highway is seen as providing crucial access to the townspeople of Skykomish, who are dissatisfied with King County’s current plan.
“I don’t think there was anybody that came out of that meeting last week that could say they heard anything good,” said Mike Pierce, who serves on the school board and also the town planning commission.
One of the primary concerns with having this roadway permanently cut off is with emergency services. There is a residential community on the west side of the washout called Money Creek Park, which, when the road is intact, is approximately two miles from the fire station.
Currently, with the blocked access, the distance the fire department needs to travel to reach those residences is doubled, and includes navigating two tricky intersections; one entering U.S. 2 from town, a notoriously challenging intersection, and the other exiting U.S. 2 at the Money Creek turn off.
If there were a train paused in the center of town, and the fire department needed to utilize the eastern-most access point to U.S. 2 from Old Cascade Highway near the airport, the distance from the fire station to the Money Creek residences would be more than tripled.
The washed-out roadway is also a school bus route, said Pierce, pointing out that now the school bus has to navigate those intersections with the local children on board.
Pierce also pointed out that the people living in the Money Creek area now have to brave U.S. 2 just to come to the post office to get their mail.
Matters of ingress and egress are further complicated by the fact that Skykomish remains a railroad town, with trains coming through several times a day. If there was a derailment incident at the eastern end of the Old Cascade Highway and U.S. 2, access in and out of town could be completely blocked for an undetermined amount of time, said Kevin Weiderstrom, a 7-year Skykomish resident and member of the town council.
The grain and oil trains that come through town are referred to as a “solid block” and carry 125 cars, which is sufficient enough in length to obstruct both crossings.
Weiderstrom also pointed out that accidents on U.S. 2 are another potential issue.
“In the winter, it has happened where there are accidents that block the highway right around the tunnel,” said Weiderstrom, referring to the tunnel located on U.S. 2 just east of the Money Creek turn-off.
If that happens, nobody can get out of town unless you drive east, said Weiderstrom.
King County acknowledges that the community is unhappy with their plans to not reestablish the roadway.
“The community has a very strong desire to have the road rebuilt and the river rechanneled into its previous alignment flowing under the bridge. In the community’s opinion this is a matter of strengthening the upstream bank and rebuilding the road to the existing bridge,” they stated in their meeting notes.
The issue is with the multitude of regulations that dictate what can and cannot be done in flood plains and areas with high flood risk. Other regulations exist in regards to working in the river, particularly when it comes to fish and wildlife.
Both Pierce and Weiderstrom agree that the river could be easily diverted to flow under the bridge once again.
“The whole thing could be fixed very simply,” said Weiderstrom. “And the bridge, in my opinion, is in no danger of collapsing. It’s solid as a rock.”
King County has indicated that they have examined the existing bridge and found structural deficiencies.
Miller Bridge was built in 1921 and is included on the King County Historic Preservation Project’s list of county landmarks. The main span truss of the bridge is the oldest steel Pratt truss in King County. The term Pratt truss refers to the main green structure of the bridge which is trapezoid in shape.
“Once stuff like that is gone, you can never get it back,” said Weiderstrom.
The Old Cascade Highway is part of the King County Heritage Corridor.
In a strange and foreboding coincidence, Bridgestone Tire Company filmed a commercial at Miller Bridge that was aired during the 2011 Super Bowl. The ad features a crafty beaver which saws down a tree to save a driver from a washed out roadway. The driver emerges from his vehicle just in time to watch as the bridge is carried away in the torrential floodwaters. The ad was filmed approximately six months before the washout occurred.
King County has until the end of June to file the application with FEMA. They are ironing out final details of their proposal for designing the turnabouts, and outlining specific improvements that will be done on the remaining section of the Old Cascade Highway west of town.
“We’re just trying to make the best of a bad situation,” said Brater.
The next meeting will be on June 1, at 10 a.m. in the Maloney Store.