A rebuilt and newly painted Murray Morgan Bridge received its official blessing Friday.
About 500 people gathered at the western of the bridge for a rededication and centennial celebration, held 100 years to the day after the bridge first opened to traffic in 1913.
At the age of 100, engineers say, the historic vertical lift bridge is in better shape than ever, and, with proper maintenance, should last another century.
As was the case at the bridge’s original dedication in 1913, Friday’s speakers repeatedly used the bridge as a metaphoric link from the past to a more prosperous future.
“If you look down this bridge, what you see is destiny, right?” said Gov. Jay Inslee, who arrived just in time to walk to the podium and deliver the opening speech.
“It has married the past with Tacoma’s future,” Inslee said. “It ties to the economic future of this city.”
Mayor Marilyn Strickland said, “It’s about our history, but it’s also about our future.”
“The reason the bridge happened,” she said, “is that we don’t give up when people tell us no. We are a strong community and we get things done.”
The Murray Morgan Bridge was known as the 11th Street Bridge or City Waterway Bridge until 1997, when it was named for Morgan, a much loved local journalist and historian who worked as a tender on the bridge in the 1950s.
The bridge links downtown Tacoma with the Tideflats and the Port of Tacoma, raising hopes it will increase economic development by improving access.
The rededication ceremony began shortly after 10 a.m. with a procession of walkers, bicycles and vintage automobiles that made its way from the mid span to a speakers’ platform and seating canopy set up on the downtown Tacoma approach.
Several members of the City Council rode in a shiny green and yellow 1948 Fageol passenger bus recently restored by employees of the Pierce Transit Maintenance Department.
The mayor arrived in a vintage Packard Super 8, on loan from the LeMay America’s Car Museum, stepping out to a rousing beat provided by percussionists from Lincoln High School’s band.
Paula Hammond, secretary of the state Department of Transportation, recalled the day in 2003 when she went to the Tacoma City Council carrying chunks of concrete that had fallen from the bridge and delivered the bad news that the bridge was in such poor condition probably would have to be torn down.
“It was a sad day for the community,” she said.
Several speakers made a point of singling out Hammond and former state Rep. Dennis Flannigan, D-Tacoma, for their efforts in saving the bridge from destruction.
The Transportation Department closed the bridge to vehicles in 2007 because of deterioration and structural deficiencies. The state transferred ownership to the City of Tacoma in 2009.
In January 2011, the city began the two-year project of rehabilitating the bridge and restoring it to its original color – black.
Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez was in town for the ceremony, noting in a brief address that about 80 percent of the funding for the $57 million rehabilitation project came from federal funding programs.
Mendez recalled President Obama’s State of the Union address in which he urged Americans to “fix it first” by focusing on infrastructure projects that create jobs and help businesses.
“You’re way ahead of that program,” Mendez said.
Back in 1913, Tacomans christened the bridge by smashing a bottle of champagne onto its girders.
This time around, safety concerns produced a less dramatic gesture.
Murray Morgan’s daughter, Lane Morgan, rededicated the bridge by quietly uncapping a bottle of beer and emptying it onto the pavement.
The beer was a local brew, Morgan noted. It was 11th Street India Pale Ale, bottled in honor of the rededication by the Tacoma-based Harmon Brewing Corp.