A few years ago, Tacoma officials thought it was almost too good to be true to get a $20 million, no-interest loan from the state to pay for improvements to the Murray Morgan Bridge.
There was little rush to pay it back. The city had until 2020 to settle up, and until 2015 to set up a repayment plan.
Now, on the heels of the one-year anniversary of the bridge’s reopening, the city is taking advantage of another eye-opener. The state Department of Transportation has offered to reduce the loan from $20 million to $10 million if the city pays it all back by 2016.
The state is using $10 million from a Federal Highway Administration grant intended for bridge improvements to pay the balance of the loan.
“Everybody’s eyes got bigger,” when city officials heard of the DOT’s latest offer, said Tom Rutherford, the project manager for the Murray Morgan Bridge for the city of Tacoma. “The problem is, at the time we didn’t have $10 million lying around.”
That was back in December. The city has since crafted a repayment plan officials say it can afford: $4 million paid this year, and $3 million in each of 2015 and 2016.
The bridge, now more than 100 years old, was closed in 2007 due to structural deficiencies, Rutherford said. The state, which owned the bridge at the time, considered tearing it down, but Tacomans objected.
Then, in 2010, the DOT turned the bridge over to the city. In all, the bridge’s rehabilitation cost $57 million, the majority of which came from federal and state funds, Rutherford said.
Kathleen Davis, director of highways and local programs for DOT, said the original $20 million came from federal funds that other local governments were not using to build their projects. At that time, she said, projects statewide had stalled.
As the city pays the money back, the $10 million will be used to pay for other local bridge, road and safety projects throughout the state.
The bridge, which spans the Thea Foss Waterway at 11th Street, is used frequently by people commuting to work or those traveling to the port, Rutherford said.
“As long as we maintain the bridge, we should get another 75 to 80 years of life out of it,” he said. “Considering it would’ve cost $160 million to replace the bridge, we got a pretty good deal out of it.”