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Then & Now: Railroads vs. paved roads

Mon., Aug. 12, 2013

1943: Motorcycle police helped to escort ambulances and buses under the Northern Pacific Railway and on to Baxter Hospital in June 1943. The convoy carrying wounded soldiers from World War II was headed north on Division Street at Trent Avenue.

The Spokane River cut Spokane in half, complicating the work of the town’s first settlers. Once bridges were built, though, development went swiftly.

In the early years of the 20th century, another complication arose: railroad tracks. Speeding east-west trains on the rails between First and Second avenues downtown halted traffic, caused some terrible collisions and made urban travel a headache. The same was true along Trent Avenue to the north.

City authorities gave the railroads an ultimatum in 1912: Separate the rails from road crossings or the city would hold up approval of new tracks, mergers or rights of way. A new ordinance mandated that overpasses, underpasses or elevated tracks be used to keep trains from stopping north-south cars, trucks and buses.

The railroads begrudgingly agreed and started a massive building project with concrete and steel. The tracks between First and Second were raised on earth and concrete viaducts while those along Trent, now called Spokane Falls Boulevard, were mostly raised on steel supports. Washington, Browne, Division and other streets were lowered by excavating to provide clearance under the viaducts.

In a massive effort that cost the Northern Pacific, the OWR&N and Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railroads more than $8 million, cars were separated from rail traffic by 1915.

–Jesse Tinsley

Present day: Looking south on Division from Trent on Aug. 8, traffic still goes beneath the railroad tracks, supported by steel girders, just south of Sprague Avenue.

Tags: Then & Now

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