WSDOT, Tacoma agreement could slash $20M Murray Morgan Bridge loan

A 10-year, $20 million loan from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to the City of Tacoma to help pay to rehabilitate the Murray Morgan Bridge could be reduced in half and paid off early, according to an agreement proposed between the two organizations.

Five years ago, the City of Tacoma and WSDOT negotiated an agreement that returned ownership of the historic bridge back to the City of Tacoma. WSDOT took responsibility of the bridge in the mid-1990s while it constructed a section of State Route 509. WSDOT agreed to return the bridge back to the City once State Route 509 was completed. The agreement reached five years ago provided approximately $26 million in Federal funds and approximately $11 million in State funds toward the $57 million bridge rehabilitation project. In addition, WSDOT offered the City a $20 million no-interest loan payable in 10 years to be used for the bridge rehabilitation. The terms of the agreement required the City to repay the loan by 2020.

According to Tacoma Public Works Director Kurtis D. Kingsolver, the Washington State Legislature passed a Transportation Bill last year that allowed a longer repayment period for the loan (up to 25 years), and specified that the loan funds were not to be considered a general obligation of the City but an obligation payable from the revenues to be identified in the repayment plan. Last summer, WSDOT proposed reducing the $20 million loan repayment amount to $10 million if the City could repay the loan sooner, preferably within three years. City of Tacoma staff reviewed the proposal and came to an agreement with WSDOT last month.

The original loan agreement calls for the City to pay $4 million annually beginning next year and continuing through 2019. Under new terms of the proposed amended loan agreement, the City would pay $4 million by Aug. 1, 2014, $3 million by April 1, 2015, and $3 million by April 1, 2016. General Fund revenues would be used to make the payment this year, and funding for later payments would be built into the City’s 2015-2016 biennial budget.

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The new loan agreement will require approval by Tacoma City Council.

“Staff recommends accepting WSDOT’s offer to reduce the $20 million loan repayment to $10 million by approving the draft amendment to the Local Agency Agreement to repay the loan in three years,” wrote Kingsolver in a Jan. 29 memo to Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax. “This will reduce the loan amount by 50 per cent.”

The 101-year-old Murray Morgan Bridge was closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic in 2007 after a WSDOT inspection deemed the bridge structurally deficient. The City began to rehabilitate the bridge three years ago. On Feb. 1, 2013, the bridge re-opened to vehicle and pedestrian traffic following its rehabilitation. Officials gathered two weeks later to celebrate the bridge’s rededication and centennial.

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the Murray Morgan Bridge rehabilitation, click on the following links:

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengerssecond-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State; third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; and third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright. His work has appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.