August 17, 1997 in Nation/World

Bridge To The Future Lincoln Street Project Spans A Range Of Views

By The Spokesman-Review
 

When Brad Blegen pictures the proposed Lincoln Street bridge, he sees a sleek structure that links Spokane to its past and draws people to the city’s core.

When Rick Hastings imagines the same span, he sees a tragic abuse of the river’s landmark lower falls.

“The bridge will do things we can’t imagine for downtown,” said Blegen, a city engineer and manager of the city’s bridge project. “I think it’s going to be a real tourist attraction, especially during high water.

“People will be able to see the falls much more than they can now.”

Hastings, a private architect, couldn’t disagree more.

“I see a whole lot of concrete and a 90-foot shadow. It’s going to be blocked out - the daylight, the sunlight that plays on the water …

“Instead of the water making a thunderous roar, the cars and trucks will be.”

The Lincoln Street bridge project won the City Council’s approval in 1992, but the passage of five years hasn’t eased the controversy.

Blegen talks passionately about the bridge, his voice rising and lowering to emphasize specific points about the project. Hastings carts around a 6-inch binder filled with newspaper clippings on the bridge and decades-old documents about the falls and their history.

The usually shy, soft-spoken men exemplify the community’s split sentiments, as residents rarely are neutral about the bridge. Its mere mention often prompts a splutter of opinion from anyone within hearing range. There is a counter to every claim about how the bridge will affect downtown or the river gorge.

While engineers hired by the city forge ahead with the bridge’s design, opponents search for ways to scrap the project and transform the gorge area into a historic monument to Native American tribes.

Throwing the project into reverse would take the weight of at least four council members, which isn’t likely to happen.

“Basically, unless the council does something, the construction of the bridge will proceed,” Councilwoman Roberta Greene said. “We would have to make a very conscious decision to stop it.”

“I personally haven’t seen any reason yet … why it shouldn’t proceed,” Mayor Jack Geraghty said. “A lot of decisions have been made on the basis it would proceed, a lot of money’s been spent.”

That tally adds up to $8 million of the total $36 million project. Money spent so far includes $3.2 million for a design contract with CH2M Hill and $2.8 million to buy the former Salty’s at the Falls restaurant site.

Only Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers vocally opposes the bridge, saying she favors rebuilding the Post Street Bridge. “I guess, for me, there’s a question of whether this was a true public process or whether it was kind of internally driven,” she said. “I don’t think people were given all the facts.”

Blegen can’t imagine how discussions about the bridge could have been more open. In the early ‘90s, two citizen committees studied the proposal and made recommendations, and four public hearings were held at City Hall.

“The citizens committee, most of them came in real skeptical,” he said. “But they came out endorsing the project. …

“I wish (the current opponents) had taken the time to get involved up front, instead of thinking all the things we already thought through.”

Talk about building a new bridge began in the early 1970s but lost momentum when hoped-for money failed to appear, Blegen said.

Spokane qualified for state and federal bridge dollars in 1985 - the same year Blegen took over as city engineer.

The promise of money sent Blegen to the council to pitch the proposal. But concerns from council members and residents about how the bridge would affect the lower falls stalled progress, he said.

Former Councilman Jack Hebner remembers being shocked when the Lincoln Street bridge resurfaced during a briefing in 1987. “We’d sort of done away with the project a couple of years before,” he said. “I said, ‘I thought we told you guys to stop working on this.”’

Then - as now - city traffic engineers were convinced the bridge project was vital to Spokane’s transportation future.

While proposals have varied over time, the project now includes a four-lane, one-way bridge to align with Lincoln Street, carrying northbound traffic from downtown to Sharp Avenue. Eventually, the Monroe Street Bridge would be one-way southbound.

Plans also call for replacing the Post Street Bridge with a smaller, pedestrian bridge to take the Centennial Trail across the river to its north bank. Riverfront Park and Veteran’s Court park would be expanded.

Reasons for building the bridge and adjoining couplet have changed little since the original proposal, Blegen said.

Traffic currently jams up at the intersection of Spokane Falls Boulevard, Monroe Street and Main Avenue. That bottleneck contributes to the city’s air quality problems, Blegen said.

Councilwoman Rodgers questioned whether carbon monoxide violations still qualify as a reason to build the bridge. She whipped out charts from the Spokane Air Pollution Control Authority that show violations dropping from 406 in 1976 to two in 1996.

Blegen admits the city has made “giant strides” to improve air quality. But, he said, “we’re still on the nonattainment list (for federal clean-air standards). We’re supposed to systematically keep improving.”

While traffic counts downtown have dropped since 1987, Blegen is certain redevelopment plans will reverse the trend.

Besides, he said, there are other, more pressing reasons to build the bridge. The cracked, pitted surface on the Monroe Street Bridge needs to be replaced. Rusting steel and concrete is breaking away from the Post Street Bridge.

“We have to replace this bridge here,” Blegen said, pointing to the Post Street span. “Structurally, it’s falling down.”

In early 1992, an 11-member citizens committee asked to study the proposed Lincoln Street bridge endorsed the project - provided certain conditions were met.

One proviso was buying Steve and Leslie Ronald’s riverfront land. Another was that the Post Street bridge be torn down and the 54-inch gravity sewer pipe running beneath it be rerouted along the Lincoln Street bridge.

The council agreed to those conditions when it approved plans for the bridge.

In 1994, attorney Steve Eugster sued to stop the Lincoln Street bridge from being built, but dropped the case when the city promised to buy the Ronalds’ land to protect open space near the bridge.

In 1995, the council condemned the Ronalds’ property and landed in court, where a jury set the steep slope’s value at $2.184 million. The city’s appeal of the ruling is pending.

Proposals to move the sewer pipe proved either too expensive or too aesthetically awkward, Blegen said. The arched bridge design calls for the deck to sit 70 feet above the water. To keep sewage pumping through the gravity line, the pipe would need to hang several feet below the bridge.

Engineers say the best choice is to tear out the Post Street bridge and build a pedestrian bridge that shelters the sewer pipe from view.

Councilman Orville Barnes - one of two council members who approved the original project - said the council isn’t bound by outdated requirements.

“We need the bridge,” Barnes said. “I don’t see the council revisiting it as this point.”

Geraghty has asked that members of a second committee charged with reviewing the project in 1993 reconvene to discuss the current proposal with the council.

Councilwoman Phyllis Holmes said she hopes talking to those committee members eases her concerns about the bridge. “I want to make sure the earlier decision made is still a good decision - and that there haven’t been significant changes,” she said.

Engineers who say the bridge will smooth traffic flows through downtown make some people nervous. They worry the couplet will send people sailing through the city’s core, making it hard for pedestrians and bicyclists to maneuver through traffic.

Julian Powers, an avid bicyclist who sat on the 1993 citizens committee, said he supported the project at the time but now has second thoughts.

“If you place a high-volume, high-speed couplet through downtown, that is detrimental,” he said. “If you build it, they will come.”

Gary Lawton, who sat on the committee with Powers, sees a plus to a streamlined street system. “Traffic will flow faster and be better for downtown,” he said.

Walter Kulash, a traffic planner from Orlando, Fla., bashed the bridge plan when he spoke at an Eastern Washington University symposium on downtown revitalization. Besides blocking views of the lower falls, the straight-shot bridge would encourage drivers to race through downtown when they should be slowing down, he said last month.

But Ron Wells, a downtown developer, and Karen Valvano, of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, said their earlier concerns about the project’s effect on traffic have eased after talks with city officials.

The cars can only move as fast as traffic signals and 30-mph speed limits let them, Blegen said. “We certainly don’t envision this being set up like a freeway.”

Stopping the bridge project now could further muddle downtown traffic flows, he said.

Last month, the city sold the block of Post between Main and Spokane Falls to developers of River Park Square. The planned $80 million redevelopment of the shopping mall incorporates the bridge into its design, said Bob Robideaux, the project’s manager.

While some bridge critics worry about high-speed traffic, others, like Hastings and former state Sen. John Moyer, worry about history.

Early settlers gathered at the Spokane Falls to build the new city, using the water’s force to power mills and generate electricity. For hundreds of years before that, Native American tribes camped at the falls to fish for salmon.

“This has so much of the history of the city tied up into it,” said Hastings, looking out at the falls from Huntington Park, a 5-acre strip owned by Washington Water Power and adjoining the company’s downtown substation. “We wouldn’t be standing here talking about this if it hadn’t been for the capacity of the falls to generate power.”

For the last four months, Moyer and Hastings have been meeting with historical societies and talking to neighborhood groups, hoping to rally people interested in turning the falls into a national monument.

“Our thrust is not so much to get rid of the bridge but to preserve this area for my grandchildren, your children,” Moyer said. “We sort of need to respect that whole idea.”

Hastings displayed a report written by landscape architects Frederick and John Olmsted to the “Board of Park Commissioners” in 1913, urging Spokane officials to turn the gorge area near the falls into a park.

“Nothing is so firmly impressed on the mind of the visitor to Spokane … as the great gorge into which the river falls near the centre of the city … Any city should prize and preserve its great landscape features,” wrote the Olmsted brothers, who designed many Spokane parks.

Ken Bonga, historic preservation officer for the Spokane Tribe, said he can’t imagine building a bridge so close to one of the region’s largest Indian encampments. “They took the bridges down for Expo ‘74,” he said, referring to the railroad trestles removed during the World’s Fair. “Now they’re building another bridge to cover it back up.”

When the Spokane tribal council meets next month, Bonga plans to ask the five members to pursue having the area put on the national historic register to mark its cultural significance to native tribes.

Moyer and Hastings envision developing the area surrounding the gorge into the city’s premier landmark, where tourists and residents come to soak up Spokane’s history. The two have had cursory conversations with WWP officials about using part of the substation for a museum, as well as adding an elevator and “grand staircase” to make Huntington Park more accessible.

“We need to capitalize on (the falls) to establish civic pride,” Hastings said.

“It’s so exciting to look out there and see what could be,” Moyer said.

While Hastings and Moyer plan for a historical park sans bridge, Blegen plans for a bridge surrounded by parks and awash in history.

Rough drafts from artists working on the project stress the use of light and texture to bring Native American artwork into the bridge design, he said.

Once it’s built, “you’ll see art of past peoples that have lived here, and an elegant, modern link to the present generation,” Blegen said. “The combining of the two will be a legacy for the future.”

Observation points along the bridge, combined with the new pedestrian bridge, will improve people’s access to the falls, said Phil Williams, the city’s director of planning and engineering services.

“I really believe - the truth is - there will be more opportunities, better opportunities, to participate in the gorge environment than there are now,” Williams said.

In addition to the new vistas, nearby parks and pedestrian paths will benefit from the bridge project, Blegen said. He added that the bridge won’t hang above the actual falls but to the east of them. The span will cross the southern corner of the 240-feet-wide concrete spillway built by WWP in 1889.

Bridge Avenue will be moved north and Veterans Court Park - on the north side of the river along Bridge between Monroe and Post - will be expanded. Post Street will be narrowed to two lanes near City Hall, and Riverfront Park will grow to the west.

Main Avenue will be made into a two-way street in front of the library, and a separate drop-off lane will be added. Traffic along Lincoln will be narrowed to three lanes between River Park Square and the library so that sidewalks can stay wide.

“The fact is, this is going to be a draw and a focal point,” Blegen said. “It will commemorate the gorge and the people, and it’s going to enhance and bring people downtown.”

Hastings remains unconvinced.

“I can’t imagine the prospect of losing this experience for the rest of our lifetimes,” he said, staring out at the water as it rippled across the falls. “I hope that we can turn this around.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo; 2 sketches; and graphic: What the bridge area would look like

MEMO: These 4 sidebars appeared with the story:

1. WHAT’S NEXT? Barring decisions from the council that slow or stop the bridge project, design work should be done by early 1998, with construction starting that spring and ending in 2000.

2. STEPS ON THE WAY TO A NEW BRIDGE 1975 - Lincoln-Monroe couplet proposed for about 30 blocks north from Main to Alice avenues, possibly including a new bridge at Lincoln. Estimated project cost: $2.29 million. 1983: City again discusses a Monroe-Lincoln couplet from Main to Francis, including a Lincoln Street bridge to replace the Post Street bridge. Estimated project cost: $10 million. 1985: The bridge proposal stalls as City Council members say they don’t want to clutter the view of the lower Spokane Falls. Estimated project cost: $11 million. 1989: City engineers unveil a proposal to build a curved bridge between Lincoln and Post streets. Estimated bridge cost: $7.5 million. 1992: Citizens committee appointed by the council endorses a curved bridge to align with Lincoln Street. Engineers say that committee’s recommendations for open space and design will double cost. Council later approves the plan. Estimated project cost: $20 million. 1993: Lincoln Street bridge project expanded to include a new pedestrian bridge and adjacent traffic changes. Estimated project cost: $24 million. 1996: City revises project and aims for nearly $17.5 in federal money. Estimated project cost: $21 million. 1997: Engineers blame rising price tag on unexpected problems with the stability of the site and the purchase of the former Salty’s at the Falls restaurant site. Estimated project cost: $36 million.

3. OTHER CHANGES Bridge Avenue will be moved north and Veterans Court Park - on the north side of the river along Bridge between Monroe and Post - will be expanded. Post Street will be narrowed to two lanes near City Hall, and Riverfront Park will grow to the west. Main Avenue will be made into a two-way street in front of the library, and a separate drop-off lane will be added. Traffic along Lincoln will be narrowed to three lanes between River Park Square and the library so that sidewalks can stay wide.

4. WHY BUILD? City engineer Brad Blegen says reasons for building a Lincoln Street bridge have changed little in 20 years: Traffic currently jams up at the intersection of Spokane Falls Boulevard, Monroe Street and Main Avenue. That bottleneck contributes to the city’s air quality problems, he said. The cracked, pitted surface on the Monroe Street Bridge needs to be replaced. Rusting steel and concrete is breaking away from the Post Street Bridge.

These 4 sidebars appeared with the story:

1. WHAT’S NEXT? Barring decisions from the council that slow or stop the bridge project, design work should be done by early 1998, with construction starting that spring and ending in 2000.

2. STEPS ON THE WAY TO A NEW BRIDGE 1975 - Lincoln-Monroe couplet proposed for about 30 blocks north from Main to Alice avenues, possibly including a new bridge at Lincoln. Estimated project cost: $2.29 million. 1983: City again discusses a Monroe-Lincoln couplet from Main to Francis, including a Lincoln Street bridge to replace the Post Street bridge. Estimated project cost: $10 million. 1985: The bridge proposal stalls as City Council members say they don’t want to clutter the view of the lower Spokane Falls. Estimated project cost: $11 million. 1989: City engineers unveil a proposal to build a curved bridge between Lincoln and Post streets. Estimated bridge cost: $7.5 million. 1992: Citizens committee appointed by the council endorses a curved bridge to align with Lincoln Street. Engineers say that committee’s recommendations for open space and design will double cost. Council later approves the plan. Estimated project cost: $20 million. 1993: Lincoln Street bridge project expanded to include a new pedestrian bridge and adjacent traffic changes. Estimated project cost: $24 million. 1996: City revises project and aims for nearly $17.5 in federal money. Estimated project cost: $21 million. 1997: Engineers blame rising price tag on unexpected problems with the stability of the site and the purchase of the former Salty’s at the Falls restaurant site. Estimated project cost: $36 million.

3. OTHER CHANGES Bridge Avenue will be moved north and Veterans Court Park - on the north side of the river along Bridge between Monroe and Post - will be expanded. Post Street will be narrowed to two lanes near City Hall, and Riverfront Park will grow to the west. Main Avenue will be made into a two-way street in front of the library, and a separate drop-off lane will be added. Traffic along Lincoln will be narrowed to three lanes between River Park Square and the library so that sidewalks can stay wide.

4. WHY BUILD? City engineer Brad Blegen says reasons for building a Lincoln Street bridge have changed little in 20 years: Traffic currently jams up at the intersection of Spokane Falls Boulevard, Monroe Street and Main Avenue. That bottleneck contributes to the city’s air quality problems, he said. The cracked, pitted surface on the Monroe Street Bridge needs to be replaced. Rusting steel and concrete is breaking away from the Post Street Bridge.


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