Revised contract will keep 2 Tacoma bridges operable

Tacoma City Council is scheduled to vote today on a purchase resolution that would provide operation and maintenance services for two key bridges recently re-opened after years of closure: the Hylebos Bridge, which spans the Hylebos Waterway and was closed for more than a decade; and the Murray Morgan Bridge, which spans Thea Foss Waterway and was closed for more than five years.

If approved by councilmembers, the resolution would revise a contract awarded to Orion Marine Contractors, Inc. of Tacoma a year ago this month. The original agreement awarded a $546,000 contract to operate the Hylebos Bridge 24 hours per day, seven days a week for the first year, and on a reduced schedule for the next four years.

“This [agreement] assumed the City would be successful in petitioning the Coast Guard for a reduced operation schedule,” wrote interim Public Works Director Kurtis D. Kingsolver in a March 6 memo to Tacoma City Manager T. C. Broadnax. “Based on the number and timing of bridge openings for the first six months of operation, the Coast Guard did not approve a reduction in the operating schedule. Therefore, Orion’s contract must be amended to reflect 24 hours a day, seven days a week operations for years two through five of the contract.”

The revised contract would also pay to operate and maintain the newly renovated Murray Morgan Bridge.

“Since the Murray Morgan Bridge has a high clearance (approximately 60 feet at high tide), the bridge does not have to be opened as many times as the Hylebos Bridge (approximately 100 times per year versus approximately 350 times per month),” added Kingsolver. “Due to a low number of openings, the Murray Morgan Bridge is operated on an on-call basis with two hours advance notification required for bridge openings.”

The purchase resolution would add approximately $2.9 million to the original contract, bringing the total contract value to approximately $3.5 million.

Both bridges were recently re-opened after long periods of closure.

For more than a decade, the locked and upright platforms of the double-bascule Hylebos Bridge literally served as walls. For truck drivers hauling cargo throughout the tide flats and Northeast Tacoma residents headed toward State Route 509, the broken bridge meant motorists could no longer bypass most of Marine View Drive in favor of a shortcut along South 11th Street, across the Hylebos Bridge, and a connection to Taylor Way and Alexander Avenue East. That changed last May when the bridge re-opened to all traffic. In June, representatives from the City of Tacoma and the Port of Tacoma gathered on the west side of the Blair Waterway for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the official re-opening of the Hylebos Bridge.

The bridge’s troubles began in 2001, when a failed drive shaft meant operators could no longer raise and lower the bridge. Instead, cables locked the bridge’s bascule leaves upright to allow boats to navigate the waters between the Hylebos Waterway and Commencement Bay. It was great for boaters who no longer had to wait for the bridge to be raised and lowered. For motorists, however, it was frustrating. A fire three years later damaged the mechanical and electrical control systems. And a bridge inspection in 2005 noted that the existing bridge approaches, support structure, fender system and electrical system needed to be replaced, according to City of Tacoma officials.

In 2009, a $15.3 million contract was awarded to Quigg Bros, Inc. to repair the bridge and restore service. The project was funded by the City of Tacoma, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Port of Tacoma.

The Murray Morgan Bridge was closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic in November 2007 after a Washington State Department of Transportation inspection deemed the bridge structurally deficient. In January 2011, the City of Tacoma kicked off the almost two-year project of rehabilitating the bridge. On Feb. 1, the Murray Morgan Bridge opened to vehicle and pedestrian traffic. A ceremony was held on Feb. 15 to celebrate the bridge’s re-opening.

Tacoma City Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution to revise the contract during its meeting on Tues., March. 26, at 5 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the first floor of the Tacoma Municipal Building, located at 747 Market Street. Council meetings are streamed live online at and broadcast live on TV Tacoma.

Last June, representatives from the City of Tacoma and the Port of Tacoma gathered on the west side of the Blair Waterway for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the official re-opening of the Hylebos Bridge. (FILE PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)