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Murray Morgan Bridge highlights funding issues

TACOMA - Tacoma's Murray Morgan Bridge leads a list of 20 Pierce County bridges that carry the same structurally deficient label as the Minneapolis span that collapsed this week.

Bridges on state Route 167, state Route 509 and state Route 162 also got low ratings from inspectors, according to an analysis of data maintained by the Federal Highway Administration.

According to the federal data, 381 Washington bridges were structurally deficient as of 2006. That's 5 percent of the more than 7,500 bridges in the state.

Nationally, about 12 percent of bridges are structurally deficient.

State bridge engineer Jugesh Kapur said bridges that carry the deficient label need repair or replacement. Cracks, missing bolts and corrosion are typical problems.

But Kapur said the label does not mean the bridges are unsafe.

Inspectors rate bridges on a scale of 0 to 100, based on a complex formula that accounts for their importance as well as structural integrity. Bridges with the lowest ratings become the highest priorities to be repaired or replaced.

Based on that scale, the Murray Morgan Bridge is among the worst in the state. It rated just a 2 on the 100-point scale.

The state wants to close the 11th Street bridge, but Tacoma officials want to keep it open because it provides access to the port and because of its historical significance.

Other low-rated bridges in the county include the state Route 167 bridge over the Puyallup River (9.7 rating), the state Route 509 bridge over the Puyallup Waterway (15.6) and the state Route 162 bridge over the Puyallup River (30.2).

Keegan said rivets have been popping off the Highway 167 bridge, built in 1925. During annual inspections, maintenance crews replace rivets with high-strength bolts.

The state Route 509 bridge was damaged five years ago when a rail car caught fire beneath it. Keegan said the state is negotiating with BNSF Railway to replace one span on the bridge.

Keegan said the state Route 162 bridge, built in 1934, is the only concrete truss bridge in the state. It's scheduled to be replaced in 2010.

According to Kapur, 97 percent of the roughly 3,000 bridges the state maintains are in fair to good condition. But he said maintenance is a problem.

The department had a bridge preservation budget of about $200 million in the 2005-07 biennium. But Kapur said the Hood Canal Bridge replacement accounted for almost half of that. And he said funding has not met all the needs. Inspection moved up

The state will speed up the next inspection of Tacomas 94-year-old Murray Morgan Bridge due to heightened concerns about bridge safety following this weeks disaster in ­Minnesota.

Officials had planned to examine the bridge sometime in September, but they decided Friday to move up the inspection to later this month or early September, said Kevin Dayton, administrator for the state Department of Transportations Olympic Region. It will include not only an examination of the overall structure, but also a detailed inspection of the mechanical and electrical lift elements, he said.

Were very, very concerned about the bridge, Dayton said.

Based on the findings, the DOT could recommend closing the span, which links downtown Tacoma to the Tideflats.

City officials hope it doesnt come to that, but they agree that safety is the top priority, said Bill Pugh, Tacomas assistant city manager and public works director.

The News Tribune

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