City, State Murray Morgan Bridge funding negotiations will continue

The City of Tacoma and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) will continue to negotiate the transfer of ownership and rehabilitation of the Murray Morgan Bridge, according to city officials.

During Tacoma City Council’s study session Tuesday, the city’s government relations specialist, Randy Lewis, told councilmembers that new language in the legislation states the City and WSDOT have until Jan. 1, 2010 to come up with a plan that identifies a specific date by which city would take ownership of the bridge, and a specific funding mechanism — and whether additional revenue is necessary — to which both parties agree. That plan will then be reported to the Legislature in January.

“It does a few things,” Lewis told councilmembers. “It keeps the discussion moving. It allows us to go to the Legislature in 2010 with a proposal that is WSDOT’s and the City’s proposal, which I’m hoping will have a little more weight. The state gets what it wants, and city gets what it wants.”

An earlier funding mechanism would have directed the city 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. The loan would have been made under the condition that the state would begin to pay it back after the next biennium.

However, the plan fell apart on day 103 of the 105-day session, according to Lewis. “It was one of those ultra-panic times,” he said. “Language was put together to keep things moving.”

Lewis added that if the Legislature did nothing, some people would argue because the Legislature didn’t make a decision, there would be no need to move forward on the bridge.

At issue is the ownership and rehabilitation of the 96-year-old bridge.

The Murray Morgan Bridge was closed to vehicular traffic Oct. 23, 2007, due to safety concerns that arose after weeks of intense inspection by state engineers. The state took over ownership of the bridge in the mid-1990s while it constructed State Route 509 from Interstate 705 to Milwaukee Avenue under the condition of a turnback agreement with the city.

The agreement, dated Mar. 23, 1995, dictates the “state shall retain ownership and maintenance of the existing Thea Foss Waterway Bridge until the state completes the rehabilitation of the bridge. Upon the completion of the rehabilitation, the city shall accept said [bridge].”

A supplement to the agreement dated Jan. 26, 1998, states, “The state shall retain ownership and maintenance of the existing Murray Morgan Bridge . . . until the state replaces the existing bridge with a new bridge. The new bridge will be either a replica of the existing bridge or of a alternative design developed through a public process including consultation with the Tacoma City Council. Upon completion of the replacement of the existing bridge, the city shall accept said [bridge].”

However, the state failed to maintain the bridge during its ownership. In April 2004, the state offered the city $25 million to take over the bridge. The city rejected the offer because it was insufficient to rehabilitate the bridge.

Still, some rehabilitation will occur this year. Bids are currently being accepted for a $3 million project to replace the steel cables that lift the bridge’s center span.

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For earlier coverage of the Murray Morgan Bridge closure and rehabilitation, click on the following links:

1. Murray Morgan Mojo: $3 million project to replace bridge cables ready to begin (12/16/08) —

2. City, State consider innovative financing plan for Murray Morgan Bridge rehab (12/11/08) —

3. 2008 Washington State Endangered Historic Properties — Murray Morgan Bridge (07/11/08) —

4. Murray Morgan Bridge’s Endangered Legacy (05/30/08) —

5. Long List of Concerns for Washington State Preservationists (05/29/08) —

6. Murray Morgan Bridge closure expensive decision (10/31/07) —

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