The Latah Creek Bridge – that grand span over Latah Creek on Sunset Boulevard, connecting Spokane’s downtown area via Browne’s Addition to the West Plains and beyond – celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
The bridge, on the National Register of Historic Places, was completed in July 1913 and joins the Monroe Street Bridge (originally constructed in 1911) as one of the state’s early examples of long-span, fixed-end, open-spandrel concrete arch structures. Its most outstanding architectural feature is its seven Roman arches – two being 150 feet, two at 135 feet, one at 128 feet and two being 54-abutment or approach arches. The arches each contain four arch ribs carrying the surface roadway slab on spandrel columns and arches.
And while those arches were designed for an entirely different purpose, they have also provided sanctuary for wild fowl over the years. For a time, the city of Spokane coordinated with local Fish and Wildlife staff when two mating peregrine falcons raised their babies there. Wildlife staff members were taken in a city bucket truck out over the main arch to be able to place leg bands on the babies for research and observation.
The bridge was constructed at a time of a growing need for connecting Spokane to communities west of the city, according to the book “Spanning Washington: Historic Highway Bridges of the Evergreen State” by Craig Holstine and Richard Hobbs. The problem was the need for a reliable structure to span the deep gorge of Latah Creek at the city’s west edge in order to reach the dry-land wheat farming areas in neighboring Adams, Lincoln and Franklin counties.
According to the authors, the Northern Pacific Railroad had increased traffic following the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle, and the communities between Seattle and Spokane had been promoting growth and grand agricultural opportunities. To span the gorge and thus promote commerce and development, the city approved plans prepared by W.S. Malony under the supervision of Morton McCartney, city engineer. In 1911 construction began under contract with J.E. Cunningham of Spokane; J.F. Greene, an assistant city engineer, served as construction supervisor. Steel was fabricated by the Lackamanna Steel Co., and cement came from the Inland Portland Cement Co. The bridge was completed two years later at a cost of $425,000.
The roadway is 45 feet wide and has two 7-foot sidewalks edged with ornamental cast iron posts. It accommodated a double track for heavy interurban electric railway cars.
Still in use today – traffic counts from 2010 show 6,610 vehicles traveling east and 5,463 traveling west across the bridge daily – the Latah Creek Bridge is showing its age and is no longer open for four-lane traffic. Because of deteriorating structural and load conditions, the city now limits the bridge to two travel lanes – one 12-foot lane in each direction – plus large shoulder areas providing space for bicyclists. According to the city’s Engineering Services, the center of the bridge remains strong and in good condition.
Under a federal grant, the city contracted with CH2M Hill in 2010 to study the bridge and come up with recommendations for rehabilitation. That study, now complete and available online at www. spokaneengineering.org/ latah-bridge, lays out several options, the most favored of which recommends a long-term solution for full use well into the future, including possibly light rail.
Ann Deasy, until recently the public information coordinator for the city of Spokane Engineering Services, said that it could take up to seven years to obtain what are highly competitive grant dollars for design work and several more years for construction funding. By comparison, she noted it took 10 years to get funding for the now-refurbished Monroe Street Bridge.
The Latah Creek and Monroe Street bridges, companion bridges from the same era, are often compared. At 1,070 feet, the Latah Creek Bridge is 200 feet longer and required 30 percent more concrete – yet it cost $75,000 less to construct. It was speculated in a newspaper story at the time that this might be because the Monroe Street Bridge was built by day labor while the bridge spanning Latah Creek was built by a contractor.
Leaving that argument – no matter what, both bridges were important routes helping connect the communities of the Inland Northwest in the booming era of growth and expansion that help make the region what it is today.