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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane’s pedestrian bridges deemed safe amid tragedy in Miami

UPDATED: Thu., March 15, 2018

The pedestrian suspension bridge in Riverfront Park. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
The pedestrian suspension bridge in Riverfront Park. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane’s numerous pedestrian bridges are not at risk of collapse, according to officials at the Washington State Department of Transportation and the city of Spokane.

The bridges, which cross over Interstate 90 and the Spokane River at various points, are regularly inspected and modified for weight loads if necessary, they said.

The collapse of a newly constructed 174-foot, $14.2 million pedestrian bridge in Miami shouldn’t raise concerns about the pedestrian bridge under construction in Spokane’s University District, said Marlene Feist, director of strategic development for the Public Works And Utilities Department.

“When the bridge goes across MLK Way … we won’t allow any traffic under it” until the bridge’s construction is fully complete, Feist said. She noted that the Miami bridge “has a very different structural support system than what we’re putting in.”

Al Gilson, spokesman with WSDOT, said the Miami collapse shouldn’t reflect on pedestrian bridges in his department’s jurisdiction.

“It’s apples and oranges. That bridge was just put up,” Gilson said. “These bridges that we have in east Spokane, two of them have been standing since the late 1950s. They’re inspected regularly. They do have some aesthetic issues, but that’s about it.”

Pedestrian bridges maintained by the state Transportation Department pass over I-90 at Magnolia Street, Regal Street and Custer Road. Another, newer pedestrian bridge traverses the highway in Liberty Lake.

Just west of Spokane, a pedestrian bridge passes over I-90 as part of the Fish Lake Trail. It was built in 1962 for use by the Union Pacific Railroad.

In the city, 11 bridges span the river and waterfalls of Riverfront Park, and most have long been identified as in need of repair or replacement. A 2015 evaluation estimated up to $13.5 million was needed to upgrade or replace the bridges, a price tag driven primarily by Howard Street South, the bridge nearest the Looff Carrousel. At the time, replacing the 83-year-old bridge, including its underwater piers, was anticipated to cost up to $5.8 million.

Following the 2014 park bond, that bridge was recently replaced for $6.7 million.

“The bridge is really, truly done,” said Fianna Dickson, the city parks spokeswoman, but it won’t be open until adjoining work on the Rotary Fountain and Looff Carrousel building is done.

The midchannel Howard Street Bridge was slated for replacement, but city engineers found “a number of scenarios to prolong the life of the blue bridge,” said Garrett Jones, the city’s park planning and development manager. These included replacing a girder that will allow the bridge to handle utility vehicle traffic, and removing the cantilever sidewalks, which will allow people to once again approach the bridge’s edges to view the river.

Still, a report prepared for the city last year highly recommended closing the bridge to all vehicular traffic due to the “severity of the damage” to the century-old bridge. The report said it expected the bridge “to be closed to pedestrian traffic within the next five years” if the city did nothing.

The report estimated the cost to replace the girder and remove the sidewalk at around $200,000. Original estimates to replace the bridge ran as high as $10 million.

Other pedestrian bridges in the park are aging and in need of deck replacement but are sound overall, said Jones. These include the suspension bridges and the wooden bridge near the Spokane Convention Center. Replacing the deck of the Don Kardong Bridge near Gonzaga University is being considered, and the city is searching for grants to fund the work.

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