2008 Washington State Endangered Historic Properties — Murray Morgan Bridge

On May 27, Washington Trust for Historic Preservation representatives were in Tacoma to announce its annual list of Washington State’s Most Endangered Historic Places. The list dates back to 1992, and aims to raise awareness of historic properties that face demolition by redevelopment or neglect. Over the past 16 years, according to the organization, Washington Trust has placed nearly 100 threatened sites nominated by concerned citizens and organizations across the state. The organization also assists historic preservation advocates in developing strategies aimed at removing these threats.

This year’s list was presented during a press conference on the bridge deck of the 95-year-old Murray Morgan Bridge, which was one of seven endangered historic properties for 2008.

Since June 2, the Index has published a profile of each endangered property, as compiled by Washington Trust.

Here is what the Washington Trust had to say about the Murray Morgan Bridge in Tacoma.

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Spanning the famed Thea Foss Waterway, Tacoma’s Murray Morgan Bridge stands as a vigilant reminder of the challenges facing historic bridges throughout Washington State and across the nation. Critical maintenance and monitoring issues these engineering marvels face were tragically brought to light with the collapse of I-35 in Minneapolis in August of 2007. In Washington, the State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has categorized over 120 bridges in the state highway system as structurally deficient. The majority of bridges within this category are over 50 years old, the threshold for being considered historic.

Dominating the Tacoma skyline when it was built in 1913, the Murray Morgan Bridge, known then as the 11th Street Bridge, played a key role in the city’s urban development by linking downtown to the waterfront and the industrial tide flats. Designed by renowned bridge engineers Waddell and Harrington, the bridge is remarkable for the height of the deck, the overhead span designed for carrying a water pipe, and its construction on a grade. In addition, the bridge plays a prominent role in Tacoma’s social history, serving as the setting for gatherings and labor disputes, including a violent strike in 1916, just three years after completion. In 1997, the bridge was renamed after Murray Morgan, a noted Washington historian.

The Murray Morgan Bridge became part of the state’s highway system in 1937. But with new transportation corridors constructed in the 1990s, the 11th Street route was seen as less critical and WSDOT entered into negotiations with the City of Tacoma to return the bridge to municipal ownership. Failure to agree on the terms of transfer has led to a stalemate and concerns surrounding deferred maintenance prompted WSDOT to close the bridge to vehicular traffic in fall 2007.

At present, the main obstacle to saving the bridge is the great expense: recent studies indicate that restoration of the Murray Morgan Bridge would cost $80 million. Supporters, however, remain undaunted. A strong coalition of Tacoma-based preservationists, history buffs and elected officials are calling for rehabilitation, citing the National Register-listed bridge as an example of innovative engineering and its importance to Tacoma’s history as justification for preservation. While funds for the bridge have been identified, significant additional dollars are needed if the Murray Morgan Bridge is to be restored and returned to use once again.

For more information, visit http://www.wa-trust.org .