$49M contract approved for Murray Morgan Bridge rehab

Tacoma City Council unanimously approved a purchase resolution Tuesday that awards a $49.2 million contract to fully rehabilitate the Murray Morgan Bridge and restore motor vehicle traffic to the 98-year-old structure by 2012. According to the purchase resolution and supporting documents, the project includes “structural repairs, painting, deck replacement, mechanical and electrical system repairs and replacement, and superstructure seismic enhancements.”

The City of Tacoma opened bidding on the project in June 2010. Six applicants submitted statements of qualification, and three of those applicants were invited to submit proposals (one applicant withdrew its proposal). PCL Construction Services of Bellevue, Wash., submitted a proposal to complete the repairs at a cost of $46,870,000 (a five-percent contingency brings the total contract to $49,213,500). Advanced American Construction of Portland, Ore., submitted a proposal at a cost of $45,626,147. However, PCL Construction Services received a value score of 96.7; Advanced American Construction received a value score of 91.4.

During city council’s meeting Tuesday, Councilmember Jake Fey asked why the contract wasn’t awarded to the lowest bidder. “An individual looking at the agenda . . . would see that the second-place contractor[‘s] bid was actually a million dollars less than the winning bid,” he commented. “Money’s very important now. A million dollars is important any time.”

Tom Rutherford, project manager for the City of Tacoma Public Works Department, explained that both bids were considered based on bridge sufficiency rating, load rating, long-term costs, and benefit analysis. According to Rutherford, PCL Construction Services provided a more detailed proposal, more robust design, and plan with lower costs related to operations and maintenance. “In the long run, cost differential is not a factor,” said Rutherford.

Visitors to the bridge will notice work beginning as early as this week. On Friday, fences will be placed on both ends of the bridge. If you do visit the bridge, you will still be able to access the staircase that connects Dock Street to the bridge deck. But beginning Monday, you will not be able to walk across the bridge because it will be raised 35 feet and locked in position to allow boats to pass freely between Thea Foss Waterway and Commencement Bay. Last month, wire thieves broke into the bridge’s control room and destroyed the equipment used to raise and lower the bridge. Raising the bridge long-term is required to meet safety regulations. “The Thea Foss waterway is a navigable water,” Rutherford explained. “It’s regulated by the coast guard. They’ve been very good in working with us during this period, but essentially, marine vessels have priority over pedestrians and cars. We do have to raise the bridge.

“Due to the damage, we just figured this was the best way to do it,” he added. “It will inconvenience some people, but hopefully this will be the best way.”

The action Tuesday brings the city closer to restoring the old bridge — an effort that dates back several years.

The bridge was closed to motor vehicles Oct. 23, 2007, due to safety concerns that arose after weeks of inspections by Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) engineers.

In 2008, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation included the bridge on its annual list of Most Endangered Properties. Also in 2008, the bridge was included on Historic Tacoma’s “Watch List” of endangered historic sites. Eventually, the bridge was closed completely to all traffic, including pedestrians and bicyclists, while contractors replaced wire lift cables. In 2009, councilmembers approved a resolution that reverted ownership of the bridge from WSDOT back to the City of Tacoma. WSDOT took responsibility of the bridge in the mid-1990s while it constructed a portion of State Route 509 from Interstate 705 to Milwaukee Avenue. According to an earlier agreement, the State agreed to return the bridge back to the City once SR-509 was completed. In September of last year, councilmembers approved a resolution to enter into an agreement with WSDOT and accept approximately $46.2 million in federal funds to be paid between 2011 and 2013. The amount includes a $20 million interest-free loan, with $7.5 million loaned in 2011 and $12.5 million loaned in 2012. The city has 10 years to repay the loan. The loan is from unobligated WSDOT local Surface Transportation Program funds. Of the remaining $26.2 million FHWA funds, $7.5 million is to be paid in 2011, $12.5 million in 2012, and approximately $6.2 million in 2013. Last month, city officials announced thieves broke into the bridge mechanical room, stole copper wires, and damaged the control panel that allows operators to raise and lower the bridge deck. The estimated replacement cost is between $250,000 and $300,000, according to city officials.

Prior to voting on the purchase resolution, Rutherford and city councilmembers discussed the project.

COUNCILMEMBER JAKE FEY: An individual looking at the agenda . . . would see that the second-place contractor, their bid was actually a million dollars less than the winning bid. And, of course, money’s very important now. A million dollars is important any time. I was provided with sort a summary review of the evaluation. I wonder if maybe [Public Works project manager Tom] Rutherford would comment in terms of what were the salient points of the decision made by the committee that reviewed and selected this particular contractor.

PUBLIC WORKS PROJECT MANAGER TOM RUTHERFORD: This was a design-build procurement, and one of the things we look at in design-build is best value for the city. The things that we looked at [were] technical requirements and cost proposal. In the technical area, the firm that we selected scored the highest, and there were several issues there. [PCL Construction Services] provided a much more detailed proposal, which allowed us to evaluate the criteria that they were going to meet. Several of those were the bridge sufficiency rating, load-rating, long-term costs, [and] benefit analysis. Those are the things we looked at. [PCL Construction Services] provided information that allowed us to check to see that they could meet that. The other firm just told us they were going to meet it. [Advanced American Construction] did provide better load-rating factors and bridge sufficiency ratings. Bridge sufficiency rating goes from zero to 100 — zero being it’s falling down, 100 being it’s in very good shape. The Murray Morgan Bridge right now is 2. So it’s not very good shape. But both firms were able to provide a bridge sufficiency rating over 80, PCL provided a higher rating, provided a higher load-rating. The bridge sufficiency rating is important because that’s how [it qualifies for] future federal grants. So that was a very important factor in our determination. There were several other issues. [PCL Construction Services] provided what we call a much more robust design. We think it will lead to a longer lifespan for the bridge, lower life-cycle costs, [and] lower [operations and maintenance] costs. One of the problems we have right now is it’s very hard to get down to inspect the bridge. You essentially have to rappel down or use a U-bit truck. [PCL Construction Services] provided access ways for us to get down and inspect and maintain the bridge. So I think this will lead to a [operations and maintenance] cost for the city. So overall, we didn’t quantify the exact number, but I believe in the long run cost differential is not a factor.

COUNCILMEMBER FEY: Can you talk about what people can expect in terms of access on the bridge?

RUTHERFORD: Yes. Later this week, probably Friday, we’ll be erecting fences on both ends of the bridge. You will still be able to access the bridge from Dock Street up to the top. You’ll still be able to use those stairs. But people will not be able to walk across the bridge anymore. We are going to raise the bridge — probably Monday — and lock it in position about 35 feet above where it normally is now. This will allow . . . all the boats that are in the south end of [Thea Foss Waterway] to pass without us having to raise the bridge.

MAYOR MARILYN STRICKLAND: One of my constituents wrote [in] an e-mail [they] ride the bus and walk across the bridge to get to work. I asked [someone in the] Public Works Department about why we have to leave [the Murray Morgan Bridge] in the upright position, and he said it was related to the U.S. Coast Guard telling us that’s what we had to do. Could you elaborate on that?

RUTHERFORD: Correct. Thea Foss waterway is a navigable waterway. It’s regulated by the coast guard. They’ve been very good in working with us during this period. But essentially marine vessels have priority over pedestrians and cars. We do have to raise the bridge.

Tacoma's Murray Morgan Bridge. (FILE PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)

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