City, State consider innovative financing plan for Murray Morgan Bridge rehab

The City of Tacoma and a local state representative are currently 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 $40 million in federal 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 this morning. “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.”

Sixty-Five million dollars would rehabilitate the bridge’s center span and both east and west approaches so the bridge would be allowed to re-open. Lewis said handing the bridge project over to the city would give the state one less budget issue to deal with.

“The problem is that the state has a whole lot of other calls on its debt capacity,” said Lewis. “One of the issues the Legislature is dealing with is that it’s approaching its debt capacity. They are going to have to spend some debt on state buildings and transportation projects they want to advance. There’s a whole lot of other demands on their capacity they are approaching their capacity. The city has a lot of other debt capacity and it can happen sooner.

“The other problem is that if we waited on the state to fund this rehabilitation fully,” added Lewis, “the bridge could be closed for another five years. This way we start work on the rehab this year and the bridge can open in about two years.”

State Rep. Dennis Flannigan is expected to introduce a bill next year. If it is passed, work could begin as early as next summer.

“This project is truly ‘shovel ready,'” said Lewis. “There are 350 construction jobs directly related to this project.”

The bridge is owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation. On Oct. 23, 2007, WSDOT Director Paula Hammond announced the bridge would be closed to vehicular traffic due to safety concerns that arose after weeks of intense inspection by state engineers.