A vital pedestrian connection between downtown Tacoma and the gentrified Thea Foss Waterway four stories below on Dock Street is still inoperative more than a year after the City of Tacoma spent $57 million to rehabilitate the 100-year-old Murray Morgan Bridge.
That bridge provides a pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular roadway between downtown and the Tacoma Tideflats on the opposite side of the waterway, but the elevator designed to connect the bridge deck with the waterway beneath the draw bridge has never opened.
A stairway is available for walkers between those two levels, but the elevator designed to provide access for the disabled or those not fit or energetic enough to make the climb, is still awaiting final sign-offs from the state's elevator inspectors.
Tom Rutherford, the city engineer in charge of the bridge reconstruction project, said the elevator now is awaiting new permits from the city's building department before state elevator inspectors can perform their scrutiny.
The elevator doors are still covered with protective paper, and the elevator entrance is cordoned off with orange traffic cones.
Rutherford, who in the past has estimated wrongly when the elevator would open, said he is hesitant to name a date.
"It could be as soon as two weeks," he said Monday. "But then it could be longer."
The elevator was scheduled to open early last year along with the roadway, but its opening was postponed several times because of design and documentation problems.
Installation of the elevator began Dec 19, 2012, but the company installing the machinery, Olympic Elevator, failed to obtain a permit, said Dana Botka, spokeswoman for the State Department of Labor and Industries. That department inspects elevators.
The company later obtained a permit, but L&I fined the elevator company and its installation mechanic $171.20 each.
The elevator machinery space had to be redesigned because the state said codes required it be reached via a stairwell not by lifting a repair person with a forklift to a hatch for access to the machinery space.
Other issues involved installing lights at both the bridge deck and Dock Street levels and equipping the elevator with heat sensors designed to prevent the elevator from depositing its passengers on a level engulfed in flames during a fire.
Those issues delayed the elevator's completion until early fall. The state then asked the city whether the elevator complied with the city's own building code requirements.
The elevator originally had been permitted as part of the larger bridge rehab project, but since that project was complete except the elevator, the city's building department decided it should be covered under a separate permit, said Rutherford.
That permit is still pending said the engineer.
Meanwhile, the city is retaining five percent of the bridge reconstruction cost pending the completion of all elements of the reconstruction project.
"The construction company and my boss really would like to see this project wrapped up soon," said Rutherford.