‘Lets get ‘er done’ – Foothills Trail bridge construction begins

The bridge will connect Enumclaw to Buckley, and is another step in the dream to create a cross-state trail.

Three decades of planning have finally come to fruition, as construction on the long-awaited Foothills Trail pedestrian bridge over the White River has begun.

A groundbreaking ceremony on the trail was hosted yesterday, Jan. 18, by King County Executive Dow Constantine, King County Parks and Recreation Director Warren Jimenez, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, former Enumclaw Mayor Liz Reynolds, former Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson, current Buckley Mayor Beau Burkett, and Foothills Rails to Trails Executive Director Shayla Miles.

Each spoke about the importance of this project, from how the trail and bridge encourages healthy living to practical benefits like the bridge providing an emergency route for first responders if the vehicle bridge over the river is backed up or damaged.

Jimenez said that once the bridge is completed by spring or summer 2024, the Foothills Trail will be 22 miles long, connecting Enumclaw to Buckley, South Prairie, Orting, and east Puyallup.

“We’re excited to put the shovels in the ground today to officially mark this incredible project,” he continued, before handing the mic to Constantine.

Constantine touted how the bridge won’t just connect Enumclaw to Buckley, but schools, business districts, civic centers, and neighbors in a way that defies city and county boundaries “that were in many cases drawn back in the days of horse transportation.”

“We know now that people live and work and play and get educated across a vast area,” he said. “We need to make sure that they have the ease of movement around this entire region to be able to take advantage of those opportunities.”

Constantine added that this couldn’t have been done without King County taxpayers, who approved a parks levy in 2019 that allowed the county to provide nearly $13 million to the project.

“Special shoutout to former Enumclaw Mayor Liz Reynolds, who helped kickstart this project by building a strong alliance that reached across the river,” he continued. “Her role is best described as ‘tireless advocate’, a term reserved for those who demonstrate tenacity to get tough things done.”

Dammeier, a self-described avid user of the trail, also spoke about connectivity.

“The last three years, if they’ve taught us anything, it’s the importance of connection. The importance of connection, human to human, the importance of connection to nature, the importance of connection to community and connecting communities,” he said. “That is why this day is particularly powerful and special.”

The Pierce County Executive also went into how much work projects on the Foothills Trail takes – they’re not done in just a few weeks or months, but years, even decades, spanning multiple local and county administrations and department heads.

Former Enumclaw Mayor Reynolds regaled how she was only one mayor in a long line of civil servants whose dream it was to connect Enumclaw to other communities, from former Mayors George Rossman and John Wise, who without their vision to connect Enumclaw to other communities, this bridge would not be happening today.

She also stressed how important the bridge is on a practical level for first responders.

“Remember when the White River bridge got closed, and everybody had to drive around?” Reynolds asked, referring to a 2015 incident where the bridge was damaged (likely by an overheight freight truck) to the point it was unsafe for vehicles to use. The bridge was closed for a week in April for emergency repairs, and then again in April 2016 for permanent repairs.

Though the bridge could technically be used by first responders, construction crews would have first had to move their equipment out of the way, slowing down emergency response and transportation.

“The link between these communities is a… link between life and death,” Reynolds continued.

Buckley Mayor Burkett talked about the history of White River connectivity, and how there used to be a trestle over the bridge until it was taken down in 1982 in large part because young adults drove over the structure as a “right of passage”.

“Forty-plus years later, here we are, starting the new bridge,” he said.

He passed the mic to former Mayor Johnson, who addressed what has been a common complaint, at least online – why King and Pierce County focused on a pedestrian bridge on a trail, rather than working toward upgrading the vehicle bridge over the river to reduce congestion.

“One of the biggest obstacles we have for getting a new bridge for cars is the fact that we are not a major highway. We are not a highway that moves freight. We are not a highway that is open year-round,” she said. “We are very low on the priority [list], and I doubt very much that we will get a new car bridge within the next 10 years.”

But on a lighter note, she said that she expects the trail to be used by commuters that need to cross the bridge, which won’t solve the traffic issue, but could alleviate some pressure.

Last to speak was Foothills Rails to Trails Executive Director Miles; it was the nonprofit which first advocated for the creation of a intercommunity trail along an abandoned Pierce County railroad in 1984.

And while connecting King and Pierce County is all well and good, she said, the bridge also represents a larger dream – “a critical link in the vision for a cross-state trail from the Idaho border to the Pacific Ocean.”

“I know this project has been kept alive over many years by dedicated and passionate groups and people, from organizations For Evergreen Trails and citizen advocates to multiple park directors, past and present who are here today, as well as city and county leaders,” Miles concluded. “Thank you so much to those who have made this long-time dream a reality.”

Jiminez, Dammeier, Constantine, Reynolds, Johnson, and Miles executing the ceremonial groundbreaking at the Foothills Trail bridge construction site on the Buckley side of the river. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Jiminez, Dammeier, Constantine, Reynolds, Johnson, and Miles executing the ceremonial groundbreaking at the Foothills Trail bridge construction site on the Buckley side of the river. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

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