It’s easy to ignore the vast concrete arch holding up six tracks of rail traffic above Washington Street in downtown Spokane.
But it won’t be for long.
Dripping water and chips of paint and concrete pitter-pattered on the ground below a man on a crane with a power washer Wednesday, part of a two-man BNSF Railway crew that began work to rehabilitate the 98-year-old structure.
Once it’s clean, the concrete will be patched up, and the span will be painted. By the end of the summer, a string of lights will detail both entries of the arch, and badges for BNSF, which owns the bridge, will be embedded near its apex.
It’s just one piece of the “beautification” project for all 15 viaduct gateways to downtown.
“We understand the significance of the beautification. We understand the unique lay of the land,” said Gus Melonas, a BNSF spokesman. “We’re happy to cooperate.”
But it’s not just the rail company that’s sprucing things up. Beginning in April, the city hired work crews from Geiger Corrections Facility to clean and enliven the passes with a two-tone coat of paint.
Local businesses noticed the rehab work and volunteered to help, said Jan Quintrall, the city’s director of Business and Development Services. Soon, the city was handing out tubs of paint to businesses near the viaducts.
Gretchen Renz, who works at Bernardo Wills Architects near the Jefferson Street viaduct, was the first to volunteer to keep an eye on the newly painted surfaces.
“I was really worried that it was going to create a blank slate” for graffitists, Renz said, adding that she’s only had to paint over one tag so far. “But they’ve respected it.”
Spokane Mayor David Condon gave Quintrall credit for repairing the viaducts.
Still, the mayor said, BNSF wasn’t on board until last August, when Condon convinced Matt Rose, the company’s CEO, to walk through the city’s viaducts with him.
“He said, ‘Mayor, I get it,’ ” Condon said with a laugh.
It was then that Rose enlisted his company to restore the Washington Street viaduct.