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Trent Realignment Proposal Gains Steam Plan Would Eliminate Bridge, Divert Traffic From Riverpoint

An ailing Spokane bridge would be eliminated rather than replaced under a proposal to reroute Trent Avenue.

The bridge east of downtown is scheduled for replacement in 1999. The Spokane River is eating away at the bridge’s underpinnings while 14,000 cars and trucks pound its pavement each day.

The federal government has earmarked $8 million for the project.

At the request of the Joint Center for Higher Education, state and city engineers are studying whether it would be better to reroute Trent along the south side of the river. As it is, Trent pierces the 48 acres where six schools are building the Riverpoint Higher Education Park.

“By the year 2010, when we have 7,000 students here, we don’t want a highway running down the middle of campus,” said Terry Novak, executive director of the Joint Center. “Our grandchildren would berate us in our graves” if the road isn’t moved.

If the $15 million project gets the nod, it could be done by 2002, said Jim Prudente, regional environmental manager for the state Department of Transportation.

Then, the state could demolish the concrete bridge near the 500 block of east Trent.

“It’s not in imminent danger” of collapsing before then, Prudente said.

Another bridge, about a quarter-mile to the east, would remain to link Trent to Hamilton Street. That bridge, near the Union Gospel Mission, is still in good shape.

Rerouting Trent would solve the headache of keeping traffic flowing while the work’s being done, because the older bridge wouldn’t be dismantled until the new route opens.

“Traffic control is a big, big expense” during construction projects, Prudente said.

City officials say the project would eliminate one of Spokane’s air-pollution hot spots, the intersection of Trent and Hamilton. Moving Trent from the north side of the river to the south means it could cross under the Hamilton Street bridge (also called the James Keefe bridge).

Much of the land in the two paths that engineers are studying is abandoned railroad bed or already is owned by the Riverpoint group.

Riverpoint would swap land on the south edge of its property for the old Trent route, Novak said. The education consortium would convert the old road into parking or landscaping.

Rerouting Trent would cut access to the U.S. Postal Service processing center near Trent and Hamilton.

The Postal Service may move that center to the West Plains. Gonzaga University hopes to buy the 14-acre site and build a $17.5 million law school.

If those plans gel, “it would be highly desirable to have Trent relocated,” said John Clute, dean of the GU law school.

Some businesses that stand in the path of the proposed Trent route include Jensen-Byrd Co., F.O. Berg Co., Peirone Produce, the Nut Factory and Lorien Natural Food.

The project also would eliminate the 10 acres of used light fixtures, bricks, bathtubs and other demolition discards that constitute Brown Building Materials. Owner Ron Brown wonders where he’d find another spot that’s big enough for his business, zoned for a junkyard and convenient for his customers.

“If we have to move to Hillyard or Airway Heights or out to the Valley, our customers might not follow us,” said Brown, whose father started the business in 1959 and moved it to the edge of the river in 1980.

Federal bridge-replacement money normally can’t be used for anything else. State transportation officials say they’re confident the feds will make an exception for the Trent project because it means the bridge never would be a problem again.

But no one knows where they’ll find the additional $7 million.

“Those are things that have to be ironed out,” said Gerry Shrope, capital programs engineer for the city.

The city, DOT, Washington Water Power Co. and the Joint Center for Higher Education together are funding a $300,000 environmental study of the route.

Environmental engineers want to know how much ground contamination was left behind when coal gasification and tar plants closed in the 1940s. The land where those plants stood is in the path of either proposed route.

“We’re pretty sure they didn’t take all their equipment and tar and pack it up into tidy little white sanitized boxes and ship it off,” said Novak.

The study should be done by the end of the year, said Prudente. Assuming the state decides to move the road - a decision is at least two years off - and can find money for the project, construction could begin in 2001.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map: Proposed Trent realignment