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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Extended MLK Way will connect University District with downtown

The arc of Martin Luther King Jr. Way bends toward Erie Street, but it doesn’t quite reach it.

That will change this year, as the city will complete the second phase of the MLK Way project, which will stretch from Sherman Avenue – the future location of the planned University District bicycle and pedestrian bridge – to Erie, near Brown Building Materials.

Construction will begin in May, at a cost of $2 million. The first phase of the project, which is basically an extension of Riverside Avenue, cost $3.8 million and opened in 2012.

The street will eventually run from Division Street to a roundabout at the intersection of Trent Avenue and Perry Street, but city officials said there is not yet a firm completion date. When this year’s phase is complete, it will add a new connection between downtown Spokane and the East Central neighborhood, passing through the heart of the University District.

“I don’t see how this could be a bad thing. I think it’s great for the University District,” said Jim Hanley, who co-owns the Tin Roof store on East Sprague Avenue. “I think the new road will be good for all the schools and students. It will become much more of a real campus.”

Earlier this month, the City Council approved the final land acquisitions needed for the street extension. The city essentially swapped properties of equal value with Brown Building Materials.

In anticipation of the extension, the city spent $410,000 last year to pave Erie Street from First Avenue to the future MLK Way. It previously was a dirt road.

Council President Ben Stuckart agreed that the new thoroughfare will be a boon for the University District.

“It’ll give another in and out, instead of just one access point for the University District,” said Stuckart, who also sits on the district’s board of directors. “It also gives us the opportunity to continue the bike-ped connectivity.”

Part of that connectivity is the anticipated construction of the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks. The span has the lackluster name of the University District Gateway Bridge, but efforts are afoot to change the name later this year.

Ivan Bush and the Rev. Happy Watkins, two prominent members of Spokane’s black community, have suggested to city officials to name the bridge after King’s wife, Coretta Scott King.

Stuckart said any name change would have to go before the city’s Plan Commission, and he would likely combine a number of potential name changes for a vote on one night later this year. Besides the bridge, Stuckart said the city would look to rename the Post Street Bridge and Fort George Wright Drive.

“I’m totally supportive of naming that bridge,” Stuckart said. “I’m not going to say one way or the other if it should be named after Coretta Scott King. We should have a process.”

Aside from the anticipated construction of the bike-pedestrian bridge spanning the railroad tracks, the city will pave and extend the Ben Burr Trail that connects Liberty and Underhill parks. The $1.2 million project will begin in April. The multiuse path will start at the south side of Underhill Park, go underneath Interstate 90 and Sprague Avenue, and follow Erie to the river’s edge, where it will run west to meet with the Centennial Trail.

When complete, Stuckart said, the new road and bikeway will give people more choices for travel and make that forgotten part of town a safer place.

“It’s not just about car connectivity, it’s about human connectivity,” he said. “The more people that are there, the safer it becomes.”