Pierce County officials have deemed the Fox Island Bridge structurally deficient after they conducted an underwater inspection. The inspection revealed holes in the concrete foundation footings.
The study puts the bridge’s sufficiency rating at 7.33 out of 100, down 33 from last year.
Jim Braden, president of the Fox Island Community and Recreation Association, said the community is taking steps toward emergency preparedness in case the bridge eventually fails or needs to be shut down for any significant length of time.
“The organization FICRA has on its ledger of things to do, emergency preparedness,” Braden said. “We’ve been pulling FICRA together now for the last few years, and one of the things we’re developing and making sure is healthy is the crime watch program. The emergency preparedness is a natural extension of that. We’re talking about natural disasters, or the bridge is down, and water and food and things of that nature are difficult to get.”
Braden said the loss of the bridge would be crippling to Fox Island and its more than 3,500 residents.
“The main thing is the loss of the bridge, because it isolates the island from the rest of the world, so to speak,” Braden said. “The real focus would be setting up transportation and setting up delivery of supplies.”
A rating below 50 qualifies the bridge for priority replacement. The bridge eventually will be replaced, but the $50 million to $60 million price tag makes immediate action unlikely.
Structurally deficient means a bridge’s design or condition reduces its ability to carry its intended load. However, officials have concluded it’s still safe to travel across.
Kraig Shaner, the county’s bridge engineering supervisor, told The News Tribune last week that the bridge is safe. He said the footings are stable, and the bridge’s foundation isn’t compromised, despite gouges found in all 12 of the bridge’s piers with concrete footings.
“They’re not catastrophic, but they’re something we want to track and see if it’s getting worse,” Shaner told the newspaper.
Replacement of the bridge could be as many as 20 years from now, depending on the availability of federal funding, Shaner said.
Fox Island resident and Botra Bean coffee stand owner Traci Darmody says the community would work together in any sort of difficult situation.
“I’m not very worried about it,” Darmody said. “It’s such a community out here, everybody helps everybody when it comes down to it. The island used to lose power a lot, so people are used to being prepared for a few days. A lot of people have generators.”
Braden said the island has a boat ramp at the base of the bridge for getting boats in and out. He also mentioned the yacht club, which has a boat ramp and a pier that would prove useful for unloading provisions or transporting people.
While construction of a new bridge likely isn’t in the immediate future, it is likely the island would need some type of ferry service if the bridge was shut down for an extended period of time.
“There’s no plan that I’m aware of for any regular ferry service,” Braden said. “We’ve talked about trying to figure out how -- a place where people could have cars on the other side, where they could have transportation and carpooling and so forth into the city after we got across the water. Those are the kind of questions these organizations are going to be pursuing to make sure we have plans for that.”
Regardless of how the community uses transportation while the bridge is down, one thing is for sure: any new bridge tolls are likely to be met with intense resistance.
Darmody said she would like to see the bridge replaced, with one caveat.
“So long as they don’t put a toll on it,” she said.
However, Darmody acknowledged the need for a new bridge and said an upgrade would be appreciated.
“It would be nice to have a new bridge,” Darmody said. “This one is so narrow.”
Darmody attributed the bridge’s deterioration to large trucks that put too much pressure on it.
“If the trucks would go 25 (mph), it would be better for the bridge,” Darmody said. “But hardly anyone goes 25, even though it’s posted.”
Braden agreed that Fox Island residents would not be receptive to a new toll.
“Who pays for replacing a bridge?” Braden said. “That’s the big issue. There’s some sensitivity in this neighborhood about the expense and how things were handled for the Narrows Bridge, so the next question that comes up is not only the timing, but who will pay for a bridge to Fox Island? That’ll be an interesting dialogue over the next few years.”
While the residents have been assured the bridge is safe for travel, some are skeptical, given the bridge’s low rating.
“The difficult thing is to understand what the rating of the bridge being so low really means,” Braden said. “The primary concern is simply safety. Is the bridge safe enough that you feel comfortable sending your family members over the bridge every day? The answer to that has apparently been yes, at this particular point in time, but a ranking of 7 out of 100 is unsettling, to say the least.”