PIERCE COUNTY, WA — The state-owned McMillin Bridge, a historically significant structure spanning the Puyallup River near Orting, may not be long for this world if the state proceeds to tear it down. But Pierce County wants to make sure the bridge’s future remains the subject of continued discussion.
The County Council voted 6-0 on June 18 to have the McMillin Bridge put on the Pierce County Register of Historic Places. This registry identifies buildings, structures, places and districts of historic or architectural significance that deserve preservation and protection.
The bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Properties in 1982. By adding the bridge to the Pierce County Register of Historic Places, advocates hope to save what is viewed as an engineering feat of its time.
“It’s just another step in trying to preserve one of Pierce County’s historical landmarks,” said Councilmember Stan Flemming (District 7), sponsor of Ordinance 2013-18. “It’s the only known bridge of its type in the world.”
The bridge was designed by Homer M. Hadley of the Portland Cement Association in the early 1930s. Hadley is arguably one of the most innovative bridge designers of the 20th century, with numerous other landmark bridges in the region featuring his work, including the concrete pontoons on the SR 520 bridge over Lake Washington. When completed in September 1935, the McMillin Bridge stood as the longest concrete truss or beam span in the United States, measuring 170 feet, and was considered an engineering marvel.
However, the bridge’s placement on another historic register does not ensure the structure’s future. The Washing State Department of Transportation, which owns the bridge, is considering demolishing it. The state says the McMillin is too narrow for traffic on State Route 162, rating it “functionally obsolete.” The state wants to tear down the old span a replace it with a new one nearby.
Advocates agree a new bridge is needed, but they want to see the McMillin preserved in some capacity.
“The merit of being placed on the historic register may not ultimately save the bridge, but it is acknowledging that it’s worth the distinction,” said Councilmember Dan Roach, who represents District 1 where the McMillin Bridge is located.
The bridge is named for the nearby unincorporated area of McMillin.