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Murray Morgan Bridge reopening is a symbol of Tacoma history

The bridge opens Friday, celebrations mid-month

MURRAY MORGAN BRIDGE: It reopens Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

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After six long years of closure due to safety issues, the Murray Morgan Bridge will see the dawn of a new era beginning at noon Friday, Feb. 1. The bridge will reopen not only to car traffic, but new pedestrian walkways will allow walkabouts over the Thea Foss Waterway.

But to really celebrate the return of this Tacoma icon, you will just have to wait until mid-month. More on the bridge's celebrations later.

Originally known as the 11th Street Bridge - also the City Waterway Bridge - the structure has served as the gateway for the Thea Foss Waterway for one hundred years. The Murray Morgan Bridge we know today replaced an original single span bridge in 1913. The reason for the change was that a single span bridge does not move, so to allow for increased boat traffic the new bridge was built.

Designed by the Waddell and Harrington engineering firm, the 11th Street Bridge was an oddity due to its high rising middle deck. Waddell and Harrington later built many of the scenic ravine bridges on the north end of Tacoma.

Originally the 11th Street Bridge was set up exclusively for two electric streetcars rather than personal automobiles. The streetcar system was prevalent in Tacoma up until the 1940s. During this time, these particular streetcars transported the cities longshoreman and railroad workers to the port from their homes in the city. The bridge's streetcars worked well with one major notable exception. 

The city of Tacoma website details, "Theoretically power could be cut to the streetcars when the lift span was in operation. The system failed on December 30, 1925 and a streetcar plunged into the Thea Foss Waterway."

By 1945 the streetcar system was abandoned and the bridge became available to personal vehicles.

In 1997 the bridge's name was changed from the 11th Street Bridge to the Murray Morgan Bridge. Murray Morgan was one of Tacoma's most active citizens during his life, working as a journalist, political activist, commentator, as well as a history teacher. Morgan is best known for writing Skid Road: An Informal Portrait of Seattle published in 1951. A book he wrote primarily while working as a bridge tender in the '30s on the 11th Street Bridge. Another notable work of Morgan is, South on the Sound: An Illustrated History of Tacoma and Pierce County.

The Murray Morgan Bridge became unavailable to car traffic in 2007. 

State Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond said in a Tacoma News Tribune article from October of 2007, "Recent inspections revealed the steel in the 94-year-old bridge is corroded and crumbling to an ‘unbelievable' extent."

After the SR-509 cable bridge was constructed in January 1997, there was some concern on what would happen to the Murray Morgan Bridge since it was in such disrepair.

The city of Tacoma website states "Saving the Murray Morgan Bridge was controversial. There were those who thought the structure was unsafe and should be torn down for that reason. Others simply did not like the looks of something old that clouded Tacoma's attempts to build a modern urban environment along the Thea Foss Waterway."

In March of 2010, advocates for the Murray Morgan Bridge convinced city council to keep the bridge. Citing that when restored the bridge would serve as an effective route for emergency vehicles to the Port of Tacoma.

In December of 2010 it was announced that a $57 million renovation was underway making the Murray Morgan Bridge useable again. Now, as we come up to the bridge's 100th anniversary the Murray Morgan will be reopened to the public.

"Opening of the bridge should not impact downtown traffic," says Tom Rutherford of the Tacoma Public Works department. "Benefits to the public are reduced emergency response times, reduced travel time to get to and from downtown to businesses on the East Foss Peninsula and the Port, improved and accessible connection from downtown to the west side of the Thea Foss Waterway - new elevator and stairs - and restoration of a historic structure. The bridge will also help spur development on the East Foss Peninsula resulting in additional jobs."

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland proclaimed Feb. 11-16 as Murray Morgan Bridge Week. During that time frame, many downtown merchants will offer specials. So if a vital piece of Tacoma's history isn't enough to get you downtown, come for the sales!

The official rededication ceremony begins with the Light the Bridge fun run/walk at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14. Originally, fireworks were planned to light up the skies, but the fireworks company pulled out. That won't stop Tacoma. Instead, Light the Bridge organizers ask all participants to wear headlamps and/or carry flashlights or glow sticks. Advance registration is required.

A dedication ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Feb. 15. The event will take place near the bridge at the intersection of 11th and A streets.

"There will be several speakers including Mayor Strickland, former Mayor Baarsma, former Representative Flannigan, Secretary of Transportation Hammond and a couple others," says Rutherford, who has overseen much of the Murray Morgan Bridge's rehab. "The Lincoln High School drum line will be there, we'll have cars from Lemay museum, Murray Morgan's daughter Lane will do the christening, and other events." The public is invited. The event will include a classic car procession over the 100-year-old waterway icon.

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