Engineers have been eyeing the Post Street Bridge for decades, looking at its decaying foundations, its dwindling ability to carry weight and the huge pipe it bears carrying all of downtown’s sewage.
This week, the city selected a company to design and build the historic bridge’s $13.5 million replacement.
“It’s time to replace that bridge, just from an infrastructure standpoint,” said Marlene Feist, director of strategic development for the city’s public works and utilities department.
The new bridge will function much like the current iteration, with vehicles traveling one way northbound and ample room for pedestrians and cyclists.
Feist said the city scrapped long-standing plans to convert the bridge to pedestrian-only.
“We’ve really come to like the flow. It’s really local access,” Feist said. “It seems to us to really make sense to keep that traffic moving to some of the new developments we’re seeing on the north bank.”
The bridge saw an average daily traffic count of 2,100 in 2017, according to city data.
Loreen McFaul, executive director of Friends of Centennial Trail, said she’s been working with the city to determine the placement of the multiuse trail on the bridge. Right now, it runs on the east side of the travel lane, in a bike lane separated from cars by a stripe of paint, and crosses traffic at the north end of the bridge.
McFaul said her group would prefer the trail to cross the road south of the bridge at the existing crosswalk connecting Riverfront Park to the Gathering Place next to City Hall. She has also urged the city to place the trail on the west side of the bridge, overlooking the Spokane Falls.
“The money shot is looking east,” she said, noting that it may be better to keep cyclists and runners on the trail away from people hoisting their phones for a photo of the upper falls.
She added that she hoped the trail would be separated from motorists, “hopefully by something way better than Jersey barriers.”
Feist said the city will consider input from McFaul’s group, but no decisions regarding trail placement have been made.
Of more concern, Feist said, was ensuring that the bridge can hold the main downtown sewer interceptor.
“We have a big pipe under there,” she said. “We have to make sure that that bridge can support it.”
The new bridge will be designed and built by a team of two companies, Kiewit and KPFF, and paid for with a mix of local, state and federal dollars. This is the first time Kiewit has worked with the city, Feist said, but KPFF worked on the pedestrian bridge under construction in the University District.
This week, the City Council approved a design-build contract with the companies, which will allow for swifter movement on the project since work, such as demolition, can start without having a full set of design documents.
About $1.4 million in federal discretionary funding and $8 million in federal Surface Transportation Program funding is going to the project. The remaining cost will be shouldered by the city utility department, because of the bridge’s main function supporting the sewer pipe.
Its final look has not yet been decided, and Feist said a process seeking input from the public may start as early as next month. Still, Feist said the new bridge may look a bit like its predecessor, which was built in 1917.
“One of the concepts is to see if they can save the arches,” she said. “If they do that, it will be a less dramatic replacement.”
Demolition could occur this fall, and the bridge may be completed as early as 2020.
Though the current bridge has been standing for more than 100 years, it is far from the first span to cross the river at that point.
Sometime before 1893, as the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported in 1936, “a man whose name is lost from the archives of the city’s engineer’s office” built a wooden toll bridge where Post Street now runs. It survived the Great Fire of 1889 only to come down in 1893 for a steel replacement.
Five years later, in 1898, the steel bridge reportedly was the first in Spokane to carry an automobile, one owned and driven by Frederick Oliver Berg. Berg is best known for his company’s work in the aftermath of the great fire, when F.O. Berg tents sprang up around town. His company originally supplied tents and other camping equipment to railroads building tracks throughout the Northwest.
In 1915, as the steel bridge was being replaced by a concrete span, the unfinished crossing collapsed, sending “a thousand tons of concrete and falsework” into the river, taking 25 men with it.
“The first I knew was a terrific roar behind me. Looking around, I saw that the center of the bridge had collapsed, with men tumbling and falling all around,” W. Pearce, who was removing rock for piers on the north end, told the Chronicle.
In the 1930s, city and state engineers determined the bridge needed widening to support the 8,000 cars crossing it daily. The widening would mean taking down a steel bridge owned by Spokane United Railways that held streetcars, so the city purchased it, eliminating “another symbol of the city’s youth, the street car,” the Chronicle reported on July 29, 1936.
The wide bridge sufficed for 50 years, but as early as 1984, city engineers said the bridge needed replacing, even if its repair wasn’t yet critical.
“We haven’t determined exactly what we’re going to do yet,” Eldon Brown, a city engineer, said at the time.
In 1989, a plan was released to replace the bridge with a new, one-way Lincoln Street Bridge, a politically fraught idea that was abandoned 10 years later. The plan said the Post Street Bridge, which saw about 9,600 cars a day, would be converted into a pedestrian bridge and be part of the Centennial Trail.
By 1995, state inspectors found that half of the county’s bridges were “structurally inadequate” and the Post Street Bridge was among the worst. Spokane Transit Authority began rerouting its buses to avoid the bridge.
In 2013, facing more restrictions to how much it could handle, the bridge was converted to a one-way crossing.
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