2008 Stories & Pictures — Milestone Moments

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Tacoma Daily Index continues its look back at some of the significant people, stories, and photographs featured in these pages in 2008. On Dec. 22, we looked at the city’s historic preservationists. Today, we focus on milestone moments. The four-part series continues through Dec. 30.

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1. Murray Morgan Bridge and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation

In May, the 95-year-old Murray Morgan Bridge topped the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual list of the state’s 2008 Most Endangered Historic Properties. The news was shared during a press conference atop the bridge, which spans Thea Foss Waterway, connects downtown Tacoma to the city’s tideflats, and faces an $80.3 million rehabilitation cost according to one consultant.

The Murray Morgan Bridge’s endangered designation came approximately seven months after the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) closed the 1,748-foot span, citing “life safety concerns” due to failure to properly maintain and inspect the structure over the years.

At the time, officials estimated it could cost between $80.3 million and $135 million to either rehabilitate the bridge, or demolish it entirely and build a new span.

In February, David Evans and Associates, a consultant hired by the City to look into the costs of rehabilitating the bridge, reported that it would cost approximately $80 million to restore the bridge.

Who will be on the hook for rehabilitation has been a discussion item for City Hall and WSDOT officials. WSDOT owns the bridge, which is a vital connection between downtown and Tacoma’s tideflats, particularly for emergency services personnel. The city has argued the state should be held responsible for the bridge’s maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacement.

Earlier this month, the City of Tacoma and WSDOT announced the first part of a four-phase, $80.3 million plan to rehabilitate the Murray Morgan Bridge is ready to begin this February.

The $3 million first phase would replace the steel cables that lift the bridge’s center span. The project design is expected to be completed mid-February, permits would be issued by Mar. 30, and the project would be open for bids in mid-May. Officials expect the project could be completed by June 29.

The rehabilitation could also include repairing the pedestrian stairs that connect the bridge to Dock Street and Tacoma’s waterfront.

The first phase of the project would be funded by $38.7 million in federal and state funds currently available for the bridge. The full $80.3 million plan to rehabilitate the state-owned bridge is broken into phases of replacing the bridge cables ($3 million — completed June 29, 2009), and rehabilitation that includes the center truss ($54.1 million — completed Jan. 1, 2012), city-side approach ($14.9 million — completed Jan. 1, 2013), and Port of Tacoma approach ($8.3 million — completed Jan. 1, 2013).

Similarly, the City and a local state representative reported recently they are considering a plan to introduce a new bill when the Legislature convenes in January that would jump-start rehabilitation of the shuttered 95-year-old Murray Morgan Bridge next year.

According to the city’s government relations specialist Randy Lewis, the bill would direct the City of Tacoma to borrow $25 million, assume ownership of the bridge, and couple the borrowed money with $38.7 million in federal and state funds currently set aside for bridge rehabilitation or replacement. The loan would be made under the condition that the state would begin to pay it back after the next biennium.

“The advantages we see is that it gets the bridge off the state’s books because we’ll take ownership as soon as a law is approved,” said Lewis. “We’ll do the project. The state gets relieved of this ongoing liability. The city gets the asset restored. The city gets reimbursed for the cost. And the state is meeting its obligation and being creative in trying to do it.”

State Rep. Dennis Flannigan is expected to introduce a bill next year.

The bridge was originally known as the 11th Street Bridge. It was added to the state’s highway system in 1937. In 1997, it was renamed the Murray Morgan Bridge in honor of the late historian and author Murray Morgan, who once worked as the bridge’s operator.

Washington Trust’s annual list dates back to 1992, and aims to raise awareness of endangered historic sites. The organization’s decision to announce its annual endangered properties list on the bridge’s deck was an important moment for Tacoma. State Rep. Dennis Flannigan joined Washington Trust executive director Jennifer Meisner and field director Chris Moore during the event.

In 2008, the Index published the following articles about the Murray Morgan Bridge:

— Murray Morgan Mojo: $3 million project to replace bridge cables ready to begin (12/16/08) http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1453283&more=0

— City, State consider innovative financing plan for Murray Morgan Bridge rehab (12/11/08) http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1450307&more=0

— Long List of Concerns for Washington State Preservationists (05/29/08) http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1228444&more=0

— Murray Morgan Bridge tops list of Washington Trust’s annual Most Endangered Historic Properties (05/27/08) http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1226325&more=0

2. D Street Overpass

If there were ever any doubts about the merits of the D Street Overpass project — with its two-year construction timeline that created a challenge for local businesses in the Dome District and on the tide flats, and a funding gap midway through the project that placed its completion in doubt — they were likely quieted June 25 when city, county, and state leaders gathered atop the overpass to celebrate its opening.

The $24.5 million project, which began in May 2006, serves many purposes: it separates rail traffic from vehicles and pedestrians; it reconfigures the tracks so trains can take the curve around Foss Waterway and out of the city at a slightly higher clip (especially with cars and people out of the way); and it creates a bike and pedestrian link between the Dome District (a hub for Sound Transit, Pierce Transit, and Greyhound) and Thea Foss Waterway and Dock Street (a hub for many Tacoma residents and small businesses, as well as an esplanade and parks).

The project gathered funding from a variety of sources: Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway; Economic Development Administration; Federal Highway Administration; Fast Corridor Partnership; Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board; Port of Tacoma; Puget Sound Regional Council; Sound Transit; Transportation Improvement Board; and Union Pacific.

During a ribbon cutting ceremony which the Index attended, Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma said, “As you can clearly see from this vantage point, the D Street serves as a major corridor for major rail and truck traffic. If you’ve had the same experiences I’ve had over the years, you just didn’t take D Street because more often than not, there was a train there. You couldn’t make it. Now you can. It’s the city’s hope this overpass will help connect the Dome District and Foss businesses with longevity and prosperity.”

In 2008, the Index published the following article about the D Street Overpass project:

— A Vital Link: Tacoma celebrates D Street Overpass (06/30/08) http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1251584&more=0

3. Pierce County Jail Forum

On Mar. 20, Tacoma residents, city and county elected officials, and representatives of the area’s criminal justice system filled a meeting room on the Evergreen State College’s Hilltop neighborhood campus to discuss ongoing concerns related to funding and overcrowding at the Pierce County Jail, and a court system overworked and bogged down by a massive backlog of cases.

The forum, co-sponsored by the New Tacoma Neighborhood Council, Central Neighborhood Council, and the Hilltop Action Coalition, convened a panel of officials, including Pierce County Prosecutor Gerry Horne, Tacoma Municipal Presiding Judge David Ladenburg, Pierce County Superior Court Presiding Judge Tom Larkin, Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell, and Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor, to field questions and listen to comments from community members.

The issue has been a concern to Tacoma residents because of the number of people arrested and released after serving no time due to limited jail space and funding. According to statistics provided by organizers, last year 3,990 people arrested were released early or served no jail time due to overcrowding. That figure nearly tripled from 1,360 in 2006. As of Dec. 31, the inmate population totalled 1,363.

Tacomans who live near the jail were concerned over the number of people arrested in other parts of Pierce County and released from jail and into Tacoma. In 2007, 2,187 people arrested outside of Tacoma were released from jail and into the city.

“As we look ahead over the next 10 years, we are going to have to look at alternatives to incarceration,” said Sheriff Pastor. “I’m not saying that because I’m a nice, touchy-feely guy. I don’t know the words to ‘Kumbaya,’ and I’m not going to learn them.”

Two big concerns were expressed by residents who queued up to comment — a lack of services for inmates with mental health issues; and where the county planned to build the next jail.

“Eventually we will need more jail space,” said Pastor. “I have no idea where it will be put.”
He added that the issue of releasing inmates early for lack of housing was tied more to funding than space. The jail could hold 1,465 inmates, but some beds are empty due to a lack of funding.

“There are empty beds in the jail,” he added. “We’re asking for more money.”

In 2008, the Index published the following article about the Pierce County Jail forum:

— One county jail, many problems, few answers (03/21/08) http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1179075&more=0