State To Get $20 Million In Bridge Sinking

The state Department of Transportation and the contractor that had been renovating the 50-year-old Mercer Island floating bridge have reached a settlement over the sinking of the structure two years ago.

Transportation officials announced yesterday that the insurers of Traylor Bros. Inc. of Evansville, Ind., have agreed to pay the state $20 million and dismiss claims totaling more than $28 million against the state.

Traylor Bros. was the contractor renovating the I-90 bridge that spanned Lake Washington. Built in 1940, the four-lane Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge was being overhauled by Traylor under a $36.5 million contract when it broke apart and sank Nov. 25, 1990, after three days of stormy weather. The work was part of a $1.55 billion project to complete I-90 between Seattle and Bellevue.

The span was closed to traffic at the time and no one was injured. But the collapse damaged support cables for the new six-lane I-90 bridge just to the north.

Peter Ralston, an attorney with the Seattle firm Oles, Morrison & Rinker, representing Traylor Bros., said both sides decided it was in their best interest to settle the case.

"The insurer made the payment based on the realization that neither side could be assured of the outcome if it went to a jury trial because of the very complex nature of the case, especially the engineering aspects of it," Ralston said.

The state and the contractor also agreed to terminate the

remaining portion of Traylor's contract on the job, which called for the company to widen the roadway of the bridge approaches on the Mercer Island and Seattle sides, Ralston said.

Assistant State Attorney General Ted Torve, representing the Transportation Department, said the state was satisfied with the settlement.

The state originally sought damages in excess of $140 million, including the cost of the new $76 million replacement bridge, said assistant attorney general Bill Boland.

The new bridge is expected to be completed in the fall of 1994.

The state contended in its suit that the bridge sank because poor construction work by Traylor Bros. caused cracks in a pontoon in the middle of the bridge. But the construction firm contended the primary causes of the cracks were deterioration of the bridge due to age, design defects and the effects of storms in Lake Washington.

"Neither party admitted any reliability or responsibility for the sinking," Ralston said. He said the cause of the sinking would not be investigated further.

The federal government is paying most of the cost to replace the I-90 bridge, Boland said. At least 90 percent of the money received from Traylor Bros. will be paid to the Federal Highway Administration.