The Lincoln Street bridge will get a complete review that could force the city to consider scrapping the $36 million project.
On Thursday, Mayor Jack Geraghty asked members of a citizens committee that picked a design for the bridge four years ago to conduct a “full review based on changing conditions” for the project.
The review could take up to two months.
“This is the time for the gut check,” Geraghty said after committee members showed they now are sharply divided over their previous recommendation.
He said the newly re-formed citizens panel should consider all options, including canceling the project, without concern for money spent for design.
The city will not, however, suspend work on the design while the review occurs, Geraghty said. The City Council will not be bound by the panel’s decision.
Asked whether the review could ultimately lead to dropping the project, Geraghty replied, “I don’t want to presuppose what might happen.”
The council will consider the recommendation later this year, before final decisions on the design and construction contracts are made next spring.
Geraghty’s opponent in the Nov. 4 election, John Talbott, served on the 1993 panel that considered different bridge designs. He attended the meeting Thursday afternoon but said later he would not participate in the review.
“I think we have to revisit it,” Talbott said, “but I should not be on that committee. I expect to be elected mayor and I should have a free mind to review the decision without the influence of being on the committee.”
Talbott also questioned whether the council will seriously consider a significant change should the committee recommend it.
“If they are serious, it seems to me they should stop spending money” until the review is complete, he said.
The review will probably not be finished before voters choose Talbott or Geraghty as mayor for the next four years. But it could blunt criticism of Geraghty and the current council by people who say the project should have been put to a public vote.
Supporters say the four-lane bridge is needed to ease traffic congestion downtown, improving air quality in the process.
Opponents say traffic problems aren’t that serious, and complain the bridge will detract from the view of the lower Spokane Falls.
Julian Powers, a member of the committee who has switched from supporting the bridge to opposing it, said he was pleased that Geraghty has called for the review.
With a time line of 30 to 60 days, the review may not be as deep as it should be, Powers said. “But I hope normal citizens will learn something about the bridge, and the process,” he said.
Like Powers, Talbott voted with the committee when it made its unanimous recommendation for a design. But he and several other committee members told the City Council on Thursday that they were not asked a key question: whether a bridge should be built.
“We were asked about the size and type,” said Margaret Watson, a member of the citizens committee. “There was nothing about ‘Do you want a bridge?”’
That was a flaw in the system, Watson said. The review that the committee will do now is something that should have occurred years ago, she said.
Other committee members said they still support the bridge and pointed out that a full study of whether the bridge was needed was conducted.
The confusion comes from the fact that there were two citizen advisory committees on the bridge, said Betty McInturff, a former committee chairwoman. The first studied traffic patterns, pollution problems and mass transit options, and decided a bridge was needed to replace the Post Street structure. The new bridge should cross the Spokane River at Lincoln Street, that panel decided.
That committee was expanded into a second group asked to help select a design for that site.
McInturff said she came to the first meeting of that first committee opposed to putting another bridge across the river. After considering options, she changed her mind.
“I’ve completely flip-flopped. I want it,” she said.
Glen Davis, another committee member, said he believes Spokane will be better off with the bridge.
“I never felt that it was a done deal,” Davis said. “It wasn’t a narrow, staff-driven thing.”
Several council members showed Thursday that they would be a tough sell if the committee recommends canceling the project. Councilman Mike Brewer said if the committee suggests canceling the project, the citizens can’t assume federal money targeted for the bridge can be spent on roads.
Councilwoman Roberta Greene said that if refurbishing the Post Street Bridge becomes a preferred recommendation, that, too, could be expensive.
“The Post Street Bridge would have to be bigger,” she said.
Committee members welcomed the chance to review the project, and all volunteered for the task.
“I felt a lack of commitment (by the City Council) when we were considering the project,” former chairwoman Robbie Castleberry said. “We felt disconnected.”
Replied Geraghty, “I can assure you that this project has the attention of this council.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: BRIDGE PLAN The Lincoln Street bridge proposal 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 converted to one-way southbound. Plans also call for replacing the Post Street Bridge with a smaller pedestrian bridge to take the Centennial Trail across the Spokane River to its north bank. Riverfront Park and Veterans Court would be expanded.