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

University District pedestrian and bicycle bridge celebrated Monday, with construction to start in spring

Excitement about a pedestrian and bicycle bridge to connect the growing University District with the East Sprague Avenue area has community leaders speaking in superlatives.

Local officials on Monday gathered in a parking lot along Martin Luther King Jr. Way – the site of the bridge’s north landing – to celebrate the project and the community cooperation that led to its $12 million in funding.

City Councilwoman Amber Waldref called the planned structure a “pathway to prosperity” and part of an “economic awakening” of education, research, jobs and urban living around the University District and the East Sprague Avenue commercial district.

Mayor David Condon said, “This is a project that will change the landscape of the east part of Spokane.”

Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, called the bridge “a tremendous accomplishment for the community.”

State Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said the bridge also offers a safer route to and from the university campuses and will spur development on both sides of the tracks.

About $8.8 million of the money to pay for the bridge comes from a 2015 state transportation package, the same source of money being used to complete the North Spokane Corridor and other projects.

The local share of funding is $3.1 million in tax collections from the University District Revitalization Area.

The bridge over the BNSF Railway tracks features a 120-foot tall central arch with cable stays to hold the bridge deck in place. Design is now completed, and construction bids are being sought later this fall. Work is scheduled to start early next spring with completion expected by the fall of 2018.

In the East Sprague business area, business and property owners are eager for the economic redevelopment that the bridge represents.

Jim Hanley, owner of Acme TV Home and Office, at 1727 E. Sprague Ave., said revitalization of the area is already underway.

He said the area between Sprague and Interstate 90 east of Division Street is seeing new housing, offices and commercial uses already.

A commercial park is being developed at the site of the former Playfair horse race track off Altamont Street a few blocks north of Sprague, he said.

The bridge will become a major city landmark, “kind of like a Golden Gate Bridge,” Hanley said in an interview.

Critics have questioned the cost, including Councilman Mike Fagan. They’ve often noted that the cost of the pedestrian and bicycle bridge is comparable to major projects rebuilding local bridges that carry significant vehicular traffic. The two-year rehabilitation of the Monroe Street Bridge ending in 2005 cost $18 million, and the rebuilding of a Trent Avenue Bridge over the Spokane River cost $9 million.

A new public plaza is planned on the bridge’s south landing, and it will be served by a new Spokane Transit Authority shuttle from medical facilities on the lower South Hill.

More than $740 million of public, private and institutional investment has gone into the 770-acre University District in the past 12 years.

Public spending in the area will include a complete makeover of Sprague from Helena to Altamont streets in 2017 with Sprague having one lane in each direction and a central turn lane.

A new Washington State University medical school; a medical school partnership between the University of Washington and Gonzaga University; and a newly opened medical residency clinic are major components in the University District, which is expected to attract increasing levels of research and product development.

WSU Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown said the completion of bridge design “is a big day many of us have been waiting for for a long time.”