As a man pedaled through on his way to work and a woman in running clothes pumped by, Spokane City Councilman Jon Snyder was preoccupied with the exposed rebar and rusted pins underfoot on a pedestrian bridge in Riverfront Park.
“Most of these bridges weren’t built to last forever,” Snyder said of the bridges erected for Expo ’74. “This bridge may be built to last a nuclear blast. I don’t know. But when I see this rust, it makes me wonder.”
On Monday, the Spokane City Council will consider an emergency spending request sponsored by Snyder to shift $350,000 out of general fund reserves to pay for comprehensive inspections on nine bridges in the park.
Snyder said the impetus for the study was the collapse of Interstate 5’s Skagit Bridge, as well as a potential park bond that may be proposed next year after the Riverfront Park Citizens Advisory Committee issues its recommendations.
Still, even though Snyder acknowledged the study is long overdue, he and others said the bridges don’t pose a danger.
“We have no reason to believe any bridges are unsafe,” said Lisa Malstrom, a senior engineer in the city’s Streets Department who focuses on bridge maintenance. “They’re aging. But if we thought they were unsafe, we would close them.”
The city has about 40 vehicular bridges that, by federal law, are inspected every other year. Workers get within the regulated “arm’s length” to inspect, look at the underside via rope or diving gear, and perform an ultrasonic inspection of bridge pins, among other things.
But most of the park’s bridges aren’t strong enough to hold the heavy maintenance trucks and outriggers needed to perform the inspection. Others have stretches of them fenced off to keep their loads at acceptable levels. Some have never been inspected.
Two of the bridges that will be inspected – Post Street and South Howard near the carousel – are already known to be near obsolete and load-restricted.
But Snyder’s hoping for a more detailed look, in particular for the South Howard Bridge, which underwent an extensive analysis by CH2M Hill in 2009 when local transportation agencies were considering running a streetcar through Riverfront Park.
“That’s one bridge that everybody knows needs to be replaced,” he said.
The last time a major bridge collapsed in Spokane was in 1915, when two Washington Water Power trolleys were crossing the steel Division Street Bridge. It collapsed, killing five people.
Snyder doesn’t want – or expect – such a tragedy.
“Bridges are unique. When they fail, it’s very unsafe and you lose connectivity. Streets don’t fail in the same way,” he said, adding that the river, Interstate 90 and the railroad viaduct all pose “huge barriers” for Spokane commuters. “Let’s get the trucks out, the guys on ropes. Might as well get it all done at once.”