The Foothills bridge is expected to look similar to the bridge over the Sultan River. Image courtesy King County

The Foothills bridge is expected to look similar to the bridge over the Sultan River. Image courtesy King County

County planning to finish Enumclaw trail, build bridge over White River

$2.8 million was allotted in the state legislature’s capital budget this year to jumpstart the project, which is expected to be compete between 2020 and 2021.

The Foothills Trail is a hot commodity these days, with still-new pavement in Pierce County, active plans for improvements on the King County side and – after years of waiting – the promise of a bridge connecting Enumclaw and Buckley.

The various efforts involve both King and Pierce counties, the cities on both sides of the White River and the state Legislature. There’s also keen interest from the nonprofit Foothills Rails to Trails Coalition.

What has long been dreamed about – a continuous stretch of paved trail catering to walkers, bicyclists and equestrians – is closer than ever to becoming reality. If the fondest wishes of trail fans come true, the not-too-distant future could allow uninterrupted trail travel from Enumclaw to Buckley, then on to South Prairie, Orting and, finally, the terminus in Puyallup.

Here’s where things currently stand.

BRIDGE MONEY APPROVED, IT’S IN THE WORKS

For years, trail boosters have longed to see the Foothills Trail span the White River, thus connecting Pierce and King counties. Money, as always, has been the primary stumbling block.

But after years of hoping, fans saw $2.8 million included in a capital budget that was channeled through the state Legislature. Disappointment came when the capital budget was a political casualty of a contentious 2017 session in Olympia.

Shortly into the 2018 session, however, a capital budget was passed and sent to the governor’s office. With a stroke of the pen, the budget was adopted and bridge financing was on the books.

While myriad details need to be hammered out, trail boosters on both sides of the White River can now anticipate a bridge on the upstream side of the state Route 410 bridge. The new bridge would be for nonmotorized traffic, but will likely be built to allow for emergency vehicles; it’s seen as a way to keep police cars, fire trucks and ambulances passing over the river if something should happen to the 410 bridge.

The bridge is part of a bigger project now working its way through governmental circles. Planning and construction is in the hands of King County.

According to a spokesman for King County Parks and Natural Resources, the bridge project is now in the “environmental review” process, as dictated by the State Environmental Policy Act. Once that is completed, bridge planning can begin. According to the current county schedule, bridge construction is planned for the 2020-21 time frame.

PAVEMENT ON THE ENUMCLAW SIDE

Enumclaw’s well-used trail runs through town and extends south to 252nd Avenue South. From there, it’s another 1.2 miles of “soft surface” trail – meaning the trail bed is maintained but not paved. The unimproved section, completed by King County in 2010, continues along a former railroad route to a point just north of Mud Mountain Road.

Now, the county is preparing to bring the “soft surface” portion up to regional trail standards. Between 252nd Avenue South to a spot just north of Mud Mountain Road, the county plans a paved trail 12 feet wide. There will be 2-foot, soft-surface shoulders along both sides, plus a foot of clearance on each side, meaning no signs, branches or other potential obstacles.

A permit application for the work has been filed with the county’s Department of Permitting and Environmental Review. The hope is to have the paving project out to bid this fall, with construction occurring in 2019.

King County is estimating the two phases – upgrading the trail on the Enumclaw side, then building the bridge – will carry a price tag of $4.8 million.

PIECE COUNTY LINK COMPLETED

Trail fans were happy in late 2017 when Pierce County completed a missing link and repaired a damaged bridge in the Buckley-to-South Prairie section of the Foothills Trail.

For years, anyone traveling the trail from west to east hit a barrier at South Prairie Creek. Those starting in Buckley and heading west likewise hit a dead-end before reaching South Prairie. Making matters worse, the “switchback bridge” south of Buckley was damaged during a winter storm and was replaced.

Those issues were remedied during 2016 and 2017 and, late last year, an uninterrupted trail was opened for public use. Beginning in downtown Buckley, trail users can walk, jog, pedal or ride their mount all the way to Puyallup, a one-way trip of 21 miles.

SOME BASIC TRAIL HISTORY

The Foothills Trail is a rail-to-trail project, meaning the trail is built over abandoned rail lines.

The rail history began in 1864 when the United States Congress gave the Northern Pacific Railroad Company sufficient land to construct a railroad between Ellensburg and Tacoma. The rail section east of South Prairie through Enumclaw and the Stampede Pass tunnel was completed in July 1887, finally connecting Tacoma and Ellensburg.

A century later, railroads had passed their prime and the local rail line was removed. Pierce County saw the opportunity to create a trail on the former rail line and worked with a salvage company to preserve the remaining trestles along the line. In October of 1990 the Pierce County Council established the Foothills Trail as a public park.

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