Murray Morgan Bridge tops list of Washington Trust's annual Most Endangered Historic Properties

The 95-year-old Murray Morgan Bridge has topped the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual list of the state’s 2008 Most Endangered Historic Properties. The news was shared this morning during a press conference atop the bridge, which spans Thea Foss Waterway, connects downtown Tacoma to the city’s tideflats, and faces an $80 million rehabilitation cost according to one consultant.
Other properties that made this year’s list include:
— Historic Commercial Fishing Net Sheds (Gig Harbor)
— Washington Hall (Seattle)
— Kapus Farmstead (Ridgefield, Clark County)
— Nuclear Reactor Building (Seattle)
— Bettinger House (Edmonds)
— Greyhound Bus Station (Olympia)
— Old Granary Building (Bellingham)
The Murray Morgan Bridge’s endangered designation comes approximately seven months after the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) closed the 1,748-foot span, citing “life safety concerns” due to failure to properly maintain and inspect the structure over the years.
At the time, officials estimated it could cost between $80 million and $135 million to either rehabilitate the bridge, or demolish it entirely and build a new span.
In February, however, David Evans and Associates, a consultant hired by the City to look into the costs of rehabilitating the bridge, reported that it would cost approximately $80 million to restore the bridge. Currently, the state has allocated $26.5 million toward demolishing and replacing the bridge. The city is pushing legislators to increase its allocation to $40 million. It also prefers bridge rehabilitation instead of demolition.
Who will be on the hook for rehabilitation has been a discussion item for City Hall and WSDOT officials. WSDOT owns the bridge, which is a vital connection between downtown and Tacoma’s tideflats, particularly for emergency services personnel. The city has argued the state should be held responsible for the bridge’s maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacement.
According to an agreement between the City of Tacoma and WSDOT, and dated March 23, 1995, 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].”
The bridge was originally known as the 11th Street Bridge. It was added to the state’s highway system in 1937. In 1997, it was renamed the Murray Morgan Bridge in honor of the late historian and author Murray Morgan, who once worked as the bridge’s operator.
Since its closure, the city’s emergency services have scrambled to accommodate to the loss of a vital connection between downtown and Tacoma’s tide flats. An additional fire engine has been placed in service at Station 2, located at 2701 Tacoma Ave. So., at the cost of $125,000 per month. The engine will provide reasonable coverage to the tide flats, and timely back-up access to downtown and Northeast Tacoma. Similarly, the Tacoma Police Department has increased its level of police coverage in the Northeast Tacoma and tide flats area by providing overtime to six officers to patrol the area in shifts. The cost is approximately $742,000.
Washington Trust’s annual list dates back to 1992, and aims to raise awareness of endangered historic sites.