Murray Morgan Mojo: $3 million project to replace bridge cables ready to begin

The first part of a four-phase, $80.3 million plan to rehabilitate the Murray Morgan Bridge is ready to begin this February, according to a presentation made today by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the City of Tacoma’s public works staff.

The $3 million first phase would replace the steel cables that lift the bridge’s center span, according to Public Works Division Manager Jim Parvey, who outlined the project during this afternoon’s Tacoma City Council study session. The project design is expected to be completed mid-February, permits would be issued by Mar. 30, and the project would be open for bids in mid-May. Parvey expects the project to be completed by June 29.

The rehabilitation could also include repairing the pedestrian stairs that connect the bridge to Dock Street and Tacoma’s waterfront. “We’re hoping to be able to include that in the work, but at this point we’re not too sure,” said Parvey.

Replacing the cables “allows us to maintain pedestrian traffic across the bridge and changes momentum of where we go with the bridge” in terms of rehabilitation instead of demolition, added Parvey.

“It would allow us to operate it to marine traffic, and stay in down position for pedestrians,” added WSDOT administrator Kevin Dayton. “It basically provides a safe structure for opening and closing.

“This is an important project for us because we are very concerned about the conditions of the cables,” added Dayton.

The project would be funded by $38.7 million in federal and state funds currently available for the bridge. The full $80.3 million plan to rehabilitate the state-owned bridge is broken into phases of replacing the bridge cables ($3 million — completed June 29, 2009), and rehabilitation that includeS the center truss ($54.1 million — completed Jan. 1, 2012), city-side approach ($14.9 million — completed Jan. 1, 2013), and Port of Tacoma approach ($8.3 million — completed Jan. 1, 2013).

The funding assumptions and completion dates are contingent upon securing the remaining $41.6 million. “We’re partially funded, but not totally funded,” said Parvey.

“We have an assumed way to go, but we need the money to do that work,” observed councilmember Jake Fey. “We have a plan of attack but not the money to implement.”

Today’s presentation comes one week after the City of Tacoma and a local state representative reported they 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 $38.7 million in federal and state 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. “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.”

State Rep. Dennis Flannigan is expected to introduce a bill next year.

The Murray Morgan Bridge has been closed since Oct. 23, 2007, when 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.

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 of Tacoma.

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.

“What you have shared with us is a pathway and multi-phased approach to get there,” said Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma. “That’s good news.”

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

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

2. 2008 Washington State Endangered Historic Properties — Murray Morgan Bridge (07/11/08) —

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

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

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