Tacoma closer to owning Murray Morgan Bridge

Tacoma City Council’s environment and public works committee this evening made a “do-pass” recommendation of an agreement that would revert ownership of the 96-year-old Murray Morgan bridge from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) back to the City.

Washington State took ownership of the bridge in the mid-1990s while it constructed State Route 509 from Interstate 705 to Milwaukee Avenue. According to an earlier agreement, the State agreed to return the bridge back to the City once SR 509 was completed.

However, the bridge has suffered from decades of deferred maintenance and neglect. It was closed to vehicular traffic Oct. 23, 2007, due to safety concerns that arose after weeks of inspections by WSDOT engineers. In 2008, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation included the bridge on its annual list of Most Endangered Properties.

In April 2004, the state offered the city $25 million to take ownership the bridge, but the city rejected the offer because it was insufficient to rehabilitate the bridge. One consultant’s estimate indicated it will cost approximately $65 million to $80 million to fully rehabilitate the bridge.

According to the current turn-back agreement, which was supported tonight by the council committee, the City and WSDOT would agree to the following terms:

— Washington State agrees to provide the City approximately $10.8 million dollars in state funds, and $26.2 million in Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) funds. Approximately $5.04 million in state funds would be paid within 60 days, and the rest would be paid before July 1, 2010. The FHWA funds would be made available through the state’s Highways and Local Programs Division and applied toward a rehabilitation plan for the bridge;

— The City would agree to accept ownership of the bridge in its current condition, “extinguish[ing] any real of implied agreements between Tacoma and Washington State regarding future bridge expenditures”;

— Because State and Federal funds won’t be enough to fully rehabilitate the bridge, the agreement directs WSDOT to support the City in its effort to secure additional federal funds. The rehabilitation calls for replacing the wire lift cables, rehabilitating the center truss span, completing both of the bridge approaches, and completing seismic enhancements.

According to Assistant Public Works Director Jim Parvey, legislation required the City and the State come up with a plan to return the bridge to the City by January 2010.

The final turn-back agreement would still need to be approved by full City Council.

During tonight’s meeting, Councilmembers Jake Fey and Lauren Walker, and Mayor Bill Baarsma, were pleased with the current turn-back agreement.

Baarsma noted the foresight of former Tacoma Mayor Angelo Fawcett to make sure the heavy-duty bridge was built strong enough to handle streetcars. “If the bridge hadn’t been overbuilt in 1913, we wouldn’t have been able to save it,” said Baarsma. “Thank you, Mayor Fawcett.”

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For earlier Index coverage of the Murray Morgan Bridge, click on the following links:

Murray Morgan Bridge rehab delayed (10/08/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1638707&more=0

Contract awarded for Murray Morgan Bridge cable project (06/17/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1571549&more=0

City, State Murray Morgan Bridge funding negotiations will continue (05/06/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1543929&more=0

Murray Morgan Mojo: $3 million project to replace bridge cables ready to begin (12/16/08) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1453283&more=0

City, State consider innovative financing plan for Murray Morgan Bridge rehab (12/11/08) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1450307&more=0

2008 Washington State Endangered Historic Properties — Murray Morgan Bridge (06/11/08) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1240070&more=0

Murray Morgan Bridge’s Endangered Legacy (05/30/08) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1230053&more=0

Murray Morgan Bridge tops list of Washington Trust’s annual Most Endangered Historic Properties (05/27/08) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1226325&more=0

Murray Morgan Bridge closure expensive decision (10/31/07) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1094891&more=0