When the Monroe Street Bridge was built in 1911, it was heralded as the longest and highest concrete span in America.
The stout bridge was born in an era of horse travel, a time when police were switching to “patrol wagons” they called “gasoline speeders.”
Now, 44,000 vehicles cross it daily, and the city’s grand old bridge is deteriorating.
“It’s seen its day. It needs to be fixed,” said Mark Serbousek, city bridge engineer.
The bridge has the second-worst ranking of the 315 bridges in Spokane County, according to state inspection records.
Only the Harvard Road Bridge, which broke in 1992, has a lower rating - determined by inspectors who assess condition and load-carrying capability.
Serbousek said the city plans to tear off the bridge deck and replace it with a new one. But that won’t happen for another five years, he estimates, because of other commitments and complications with closing one of the city’s main arteries.
When the Monroe Street Bridge was in its planning stages, an Aug. 29, 1909, Spokane Daily Chronicle article boasted it would be “one of the notable edifices of the world.”
Designed by Spokane city engineer J.C. Ralston, the bridge cost $500,000 and took one year and 25,000 yards of concrete to build.
In June 1948, photographs of the bridge were seen across America as it graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.
The exposure helped make the bridge a popular suicide spot. Six people jumped off it and died in the next five years. Just last February, two men killed themselves by leaping from the bridge.
The bridge still is a nostalgic attraction at the foot of Spokane Falls. It’s still 826 feet long and 281 feet wide; its deck still stands 135 feet above the river.
But it’s getting expensive to maintain. Concrete is falling off, exposing its steel frame.
“Steel is rusting in there,” Serbousek said. “We can’t kid ourselves.”