Murray Morgan Bridge opens for pedestrians

Government and community leaders gathered at Murray Morgan Bridge on March 31 to mark the completion of recabling work that allows pedestrians and bicyclists to once again go across it.

The grand but aging structure, built in 1913, spans Thea Foss Waterway and links downtown with the Tideflats. State officials closed it to vehicle traffic due to safety concerns in 2007. It had been closed to pedestrians while recent repairs were underway.

Bill Baarsma, who stepped down as mayor at the end of last year, has been a leading figure in the effort to save the bridge.

He addressed a small audience gathered for the ceremony. Baarsma noted the efforts of the late Bob Evans, a former member of Tacoma City Council and Tacoma Library Board, who was an ardent supporter for saving the bridge.

"He was a true believer in the early days, a lone voice in this effort."

After being elected mayor in 2001, Baarsma met with members of Save Our Bridge, a group of local residents. They urged him to get the council to pass a resolution stating the city's support for saving Murray Morgan Bridge and to hire an independent engineer to assess its condition. The engineer reported the bridge had another 75 years of service if it received proper repairs. "That was an important breakthrough," Baarsma recalled.

Another key factor was Paula Hammond taking the leadership of Washington State Department of Transportation in 2007, according to Baarsma.

Mayor Marilyn Strickland wore a tiara shaped like the bridge, courtesy of Steph Farber of LeRoy Jewelers. She recalled her election to the council in 2007. While campaigning, some Tacomans questioned the wisdom of spending money to save the bridge.

She feels the decision to do so was appropriate. The bridge provides an important transportation corridor for police officers, firefighters and paramedics, and also has a role in economic development, she explained.

"Sometimes we have to make unpopular decisions because we see the long-term benefits.

"Today we are not only celebrating our history but looking toward the future," Strickland said. "This is a lovely place, a part of our history. This is a shining star, an example of what makes Tacoma so special."

Hammond noted the strong support for saving the structure, mentioning community activist Dawn Lucien and State Representative Dennis Flannigan.

"From Dawn Lucien's living room to Dennis Flannigan's office, we have worked hard to find a solution," she said.

Elected officials cut a ribbon. Several bicyclists then pedaled their way across the bridge. Future repairs will eventually allow the structure to re-open to vehicle traffic.

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