Murray Morgan Bridge rehab will include new elevator, staircase

When Tacoma’s historic Murray Morgan Bridge reopens to the public by the end of this year, pedestrians will likely find it easier to access the bridge.

On Tuesday, Tacoma City Council approved a purchase resolution that directs an additional $4 million to the $49.2 million contract to rehabilitate the 99-year-old bridge. The bulk of that contract, approximately $1.6 million, will pay for a new elevator and staircase connecting downtown, South 11th Street, and the bridge deck to Dock Street and Thea Foss Waterway. According to City staff, the north and south sides of the elevator will be comprised of glass so passengers can take in views of Commencement Bay, the Olympic Mountains, Thea Foss Waterway, and Mount Rainier as they travel between the bridge deck and Dock Street.

“During the bridge rehabilitation, the existing stairs between the bridge deck and Dock Street were to found to require extensive repairs that would trigger requirements to provide ADA access,” said Tacoma Public Works Director Richard E. McKinley. “Instead of repairing the existing stairs, a decision was made to construct an elevator with adjacent stairs to improve the existing access between downtown and the west side of the Thea Foss Waterway while providing ADA access.”

In addition to the new staircase and elevator, the funding increase approved this week also pays for additional steel repairs (approximately $1.15 million); seismic enhancements ($989,890); and approximately $220,000 to relocate electric conduits and fiber optic lines that served Tacoma Power and the Tacoma Fire Department.

In November, Tacoma City Council’s environment and public works committee Wednesday approved a recommendation to add an elevator and staircase to the north side of the Murray Morgan Bridge in order to connect Dock Street and Thea Foss Waterway to 11th Street and downtown Tacoma. The cost of building the new elevator and staircase would fall within the current budget for the rehabilitation of the 98-year-old bridge, Public Works Director Richard McKinley told council committee members. “The connection of downtown to the waterfront would be great,” added McKinley.

City staff presented two options for the staircase and elevator. One option called for an elevator encased in a concrete column with a steel staircase wrapped around the column. The second option called for an elevator encased in a steel frame shaft with a switchback staircase mounted to the side. City staff cited several pros and cons for each option. The concrete column would be durable, comprised of simple precise construction, and require little maintenance; however, it would not be as compatible with the bridge’s historic features, could serve as a “canvas” for graffiti, and require a larger foundation. The steel frame shaft would require a smaller foundation, be more compatible with historical features, and offer better seismic response; however, it would require more paint maintenance. The preliminary cost for the elevator encased in a concrete column with a steel staircase wrapped around the column is $1.4 million. The preliminary cost for the steel frame shaft with a switchback staircase mounted to the side is $1.2 million.

City staff recommended the second option — the steel frame shaft with switchback stairs — and the council committee agreed with that option.

Last year, the Tacoma Daily Index was first to report the City of Tacoma was considering a staircase and elevator for the Murray Morgan Bridge.

“Starting next week, Public Works will begin meeting with the Foss Waterway Development Authority, adjacent property owners, and City departments to develop design criteria for the new stairs and elevator and to discuss important elements such as ADA accessibility, safety and public art,” wrote former interim City Manager Rey Arellano to Tacoma City Councilmembers in October. “Once design is far enough along, staff will present potential designs to the Environment and Public Works Committee. By starting the preliminary design now, work on the stairs and elevator will be performed concurrently with the bridge rehabilitation and will be completed in time for the bridge opening at the end of 2012. The preliminary design will be performed using the contingency in our design-build contract with PCL Construction Services, Inc. By December a contract amendment for final design, procurement and construction will be brought to the Council for consideration.”

Tacoma City Council awarded a contract to PCL Construction Services last year to rehabilitate the bridge by completing structural repairs, painting the bridge black, replacing the deck, and repairing or replacing the mechanical and electrical systems. 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 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.


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