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State comes through with loan to finish Morgan Bridge

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Aug. 31, 2010 at 5:21 pm with 10 Comments »
September 1, 2010 12:56 pm

It will still need to be paid back, but a $20 million loan that materialized suddenly from the state’s Department of Transportation last week is a windfall of sorts for one of Tacoma’s major public works projects: Restoring the Murray Morgan Bridge.

And the loan’s terms are almost too good to turn down: A zero-percent interest rate, a 10-year term and a balloon repayment structure – meaning the money doesn’t have to be paid back for a decade.

“This is the first I’ve heard of something like this,” city traffic engineer Kurtis Kingsolver said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for the city.”

Combined with $37 million in state and federal funds already dedicated, the new money will effectively put the city over the top in covering the price tag for a restoration project once thought to be a pipedream.

“On the street level, this (money) will take care of the whole deal,” Kingsolver said.

Kingsolver gave the Tacoma City Council the good news this afternoon, telling council members a state engineer in DOT’s local programs office called him last week, wondering if the city could put such a loan to good use.

“I think we can do that,” Kingsolver recalled telling him.

The only catch: The city had to work quickly – obligating the money to a project by Oct. 1.

Citing safety concerns, the state in 2007 closed to vehicle traffic the then 94-year-old bridge that connects downtown with the tideflats, saying at one point the span should be demolished. That angered city officials and sparked a save-the-bridge campaign, leading to plans for the city to reclaim ownership and restore the span once known as the 11th Street Bridge.

Under a “turnback” agreement this year, the city took ownership and received $37 million in state and federal funds for restoration. The bridge closed temporarily to foot and bicycle traffic this year while the state could also repaired its cables. City engineers planned to use the rest primarily to restore the bridge’s three-span steel truss over the Thea Foss Waterway.

That left the city about $24 million short in covering upgrades to both approaches and for potential seismic enhancement work, officials have said. Engineers planned to conduct the work in two phases, starting with the already-funded truss work, followed by the approach work when funding could be found.

Now, with the new loan, the city can do all the work at once.

“We won’t have to close the bridge down a second time,” said Tom Rutherford, the project manager.

The loan will cover resurfacing and structural work on the approaches, as well as some painting and other restoration, Rutherford added.

“We may not need it all, either,” Rutherford said of the loan. “If the prices come in from the (bid) proposals less than that we won’t have to use it all.”

By October, the city expects to receive bids from three project finalists, with plans to start construction next year and finish it by year’s end 2012, Rutherford said. The bridge can then be reopened to vehicle traffic, he said.

The only remaining funds needed to finish the project would be for subsurface seismic enhancements – work the city “isn’t sure we’ll even need to do yet,” Kingsolver said.

Asked by the council where the DOT found the loan money, Kingsolver said he didn’t know.

“I didn’t ask too many questions,” he said.

A DOT engineer who administers the area’s local programs office did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday.

“It’s good we have an opportunity to restore a historic icon,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said. “It’s good news.”

Leave a comment Comments → 10
  1. Yikes!!!

    The city is so broke that they are putting operating expenses on the credit card and the state is so broke they have money to loan interest free.

    But wait there’s more!

    The federal, state, and city thinks its a good idea to spend 61 million fixing the bridge, and the city, bless their little pea brains, wants to put even more money on the credit card.

    Is there is something wrong with this picture?

  2. InsideJob says:

    Just exactly where did WSDOT get the money from that they can lend it interest free?

    Something just does not smell right here. Besides that I think rehabilitating Tacoma’s street network should take precedence over spending money on this bridge.

  3. AreYouHighOrWhat says:

    “Is there is something wrong with this picture?”

    Yes! But that view depends on whether or not you’re a pea brain. (LOL)

  4. another waste of money….almost 100 years old…tear it down, and put
    a historical monument there for $30 Million. Arizona is putting there
    nose into this project. I’m still boycotting Tacoma.

    p.s. the 11th street bridge is no longer needed to get into the tide
    flats………….scrap it.

  5. troublemaker says:

    Surely there is a better use of a $20 million loan than this. How about loans to small businesses so they can hire people? Or any number of other, more useful transportation projects. We are way past the “let’s just spend money on this because it is cool” phase of public sector budget decisions. Quit wasting our money.

  6. mrbaileyboy says:

    What is the point of this bridge? 11th street ends just a ways down the road. This is another rip off. This makes the land on the east side of the bridge and Thea Foss waterway very valuable. Another example of the crooked little group that runs Tacoma screwing the rest of us for their personal gain.

  7. JeffTacoma says:

    Tear down the bridge, take the $20 million and fix the streets. The bridge is not needed, it’s just a bunch of fools who want to “preserve” it.

  8. I thought these types of loans killed the residential real estate market. Zero down! Zero percent interest! Balloon payment! Refinance! Easy terms! Where is the City of Tacoma going to get $20 million ten years down the road? Oh, the credit card. It seems the city has been able to get along without the bridge for a number of years. Another pet project for the city council. Of course the city council will do it. In ten years they will be out of office, either by defeat at the ballot box or term limits, and, they will all be living in another county. I’m sure they will want to get away from repayment of this debt. Also, I did not realize the State of Washington has interest free money laying around. Can I have some please!

  9. thurber says:

    Hooray, Kurtis K., Steve S., and Randy L.! You did it. I’m always amazing how many want an ugly city, like these posters. If you guys want to live in a generic and plastic place, go move to Spanaway or Graham.

  10. EatonvilleTaxPayer says:

    The writer of this blog failed to ask the most critical question……Where will the money come from to repay this loan in the future?? If they have a plan for repayment good for them. If not, then people need to be calling and asking how the City of Tacoma expects to repay this….

    Blog writer: Go back to the City of Tacoma and ASK THIS! Then report back please.

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