Spokane is probably too financially strapped to build the Lincoln Street bridge and fix an ailing road system, at least three City Council members say.
When Mayor-elect John Talbott replaces Jack Geraghty next month, the project may not have the majority support it needs to proceed.
“We cannot build this bridge on prayer and hope and smoke and mirrors,” said Councilwoman Roberta Greene. “You can’t build a bridge when you have hamstrung everything else in the future.”
“If we were to have a vote today, I would have to vote against it because there aren’t the funds available,” said Councilman Jeff Colliton. “We haven’t a clue as to the total cost of this project.”
The bridge project’s total cost has been estimated at $36 million but may still rise.
Earlier this week, council members asked City Manager Bill Pupo to draft a detailed financial analysis of Spokane’s street needs. That report must include the amount of city money needed to complete a six-year arterial street plan, which includes building the Lincoln Street bridge.
The report also must specify the cost of replacing the deck on Monroe Street, as well as how urgent those repairs are.
Pupo is due to complete the report in February, when design work on the bridge is expected to be done. The council likely will use the analysis to decide whether to move ahead with the Lincoln Street project.
Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers and Talbott have been outspoken in their opposition to the project and said they doubt the cost analysis could do anything but reinforce their position. If Colliton and Greene remain dissatisfied with how the money adds up, that could mean four “no” votes - enough to leave the bridge dead in the water.
“Now you’re down to the bare knuckles,” Rodgers said.
But not everyone on the council is so skeptical about the bridge’s future.
“I’m optimistic enough to think that somewhere along the line we’ll solve this problem of funding,” said Councilwoman Phyllis Holmes.
“It (the project) is less dead than what some people would like to think,” said Councilman Orville Barnes.
The city’s arterial street fund is used to match state and federal dollars for big projects such as widening streets, building bridges or improving intersections.
While the city gets about $4.35 million in state gas taxes each year, more than two-thirds of that must be used for street maintenance and repairs. The balance - about $1.35 million - is all the money the city currently has to provide matching dollars for large projects.
The city had planned to use at least $7 million of those gas tax dollars on the Lincoln Street bridge project. About $5.6 million of that would be used to repay a state loan over 20 years.
Building the Lincoln Street bridge, repairing the Monroe Street bridge and completing a handful of other projects on the six-year plan will “use up all the match money we have available for the next six to seven years,” said Brad Blegen, the city’s point man for the Lincoln project.
That’s based on current estimates to build Lincoln and redeck Monroe. The cost of both may increase.
Blegen said he thinks $36 million for the Lincoln Street bridge is “still a good number.” But that could change.
The city needs easements from both Washington Water Power and Steve and Leslie Ronald. It also must pay to relocate WWP’s electric distribution lines and make sure the company can maintain its water intake area beneath the new bridge.
Rough estimates say putting a new deck on the Monroe Street bridge will cost $8 million to $10 million. But the city plans to hire a consultant to determine the true cost.
Several council members - as well as Talbott - say they aren’t sure they’re willing to dedicate so much of the city’s matching money to build the Lincoln Street bridge. Not including the bridge, the city needs at least $10 million to pay the local share of other projects on the six-year plan.
In addition, the city needs an estimated $50 million for long-deferred street resurfacing projects.
“I’m not going to put us into any fiscally restrained situation,” Greene said. “If it’s resurfacing the Monroe Street bridge versus the Lincoln Street bridge, I would resurface Monroe.”
“I don’t believe building a bridge will bring quality jobs to Spokane,” Talbott said. “But I do believe fixing streets will influence a potential corporation thinking about moving to Spokane.”
City officials had counted on proposals for a $37.3 million street bond and a 2.3-cent-per-gallon local gas tax to free up money for the bridge. But voters shot both down.
The city also counted on the state Legislature to boost gas taxes to send more money for streets to cities and counties. That effort failed last year and isn’t likely to gain favor this coming session.
Colliton wanted the council to indefinitely shelve the bridge last Monday so the project would stay alive during a dollar search. But the council asked instead for the financial analysis.
Now, the council is in a “go/no-go situation,” Colliton said, adding that either officials nail down money by February or the project likely will die.
Councilman-elect Rob Higgins said he wants to see the report before he makes up his mind. He lauded the council’s decision to take a closer look at financing.
“I thought that would have been pretty well explained by now,” Higgins said. “You don’t want to jeopardize the whole street program.”
Holmes said Pupo’s report will help the council prioritize projects. She still thinks the bridge will be built. But, she added, “Obviously, no money kills it.”
Outgoing Councilman Mike Brewer remains a project fan.
“We have to do something to get across that ditch,” he said. “I hope the city can get its act together.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Graphic: River Park Square street level plan
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ON THE BRIDGE Here are excerpts from what City Council members said during their most recent deliberations about the Lincoln Street bridge: Jeff Colliton: “Maybe the need for the bridge will really surface … after River Park Square is constructed, the convention center is up, downtown is alive … Then maybe our community will tell us it’s time to build the bridge. To me, that time is not now.” Orville Barnes: “The problem with most ideas is that if they’re around long enough, we can usually find a reason they aren’t any good. I think that’s what’s happened here.” Mike Brewer: “I’m going to support moving forward tonight because I am tired of being bashed and pushed and told that I’m not looking at the future ‘cuz damn it, I’m a futurist, and I’m not a look-behinder.” Phyllis Holmes: “We can talk about enhancements. We can talk about park expansion. We can talk about transportation … but the bottom line for the council is really two things. First, cost, fiscal management. Second, reliance. Reliance on our commitments.” Cherie Rodgers: “Let’s take the issue out, let both sides debate it out. I’m never afraid of putting issues to a public vote.” Roberta Greene: “The key to me here, is I don’t know if we really need this bridge. If I had to vote on the bridge tonight, I would vote no.” Mayor Jack Geraghty: “What really concerns me most of all is the reliance that people have had in this community that this project is going ahead. This is an 11th hour deferral of a project … There are commitments that were made a long time ago.” - Compiled by Kristina Johnson