The city’s parks department wants to give the Don Kardong Bridge a facelift, but elected leaders are questioning the best way to pay for it.
The pedestrian bridge, which brings the Centennial Trail over the Spokane River in the University District, has long been eyed for renovation by city officials, who warn that it could be forced to close for safety reasons.
The $2.3 million project – about $1.5 million of which would be covered by the city – would be both cosmetic and structural.
“This bridge needs help,” Parks and Recreation Director Garrett Jones told the City Council during a study session on Thursday.
If it doesn’t complete the work this year, the city would lose access to $800,000 in state and local grant funding earmarked to support the project. The project was slated for completion in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic – and subsequent losses to parks department revenue – forced the city to delay it.
Jones described the project as designed and “shovel-ready.” The city just has to hit “the send button” to put it out to bid and solicit a contractor, he said. The aim would be to have the project wrapped up in 2022.
Council members who discussed the proposal agree that the repairs are necessary, but appeared mixed on whether it would be wise to use American Rescue Plan money, part of the federal coronavirus aid package, to pay for them.
The plan is to upgrade the bridge’s decking, about half of which consists of wood planking that has a “significant amount of dry rot,” according to Jones. The bridge’s entire deck would be replaced by precast concrete that would be easier to maintain.
Some of the bridge’s outlook areas over the Spokane River are structurally unsound and have been closed, but would be replaced under the plan. The work would also include minor concrete pier replacement.
“We really need to preserve this now, this critical pathway,” Jones said.
The city would do away with the bridge’s triangular aqua-green trusses, and the renovated bridge would be bordered by new railings lined with enhanced lighting.
Council members considered the request for bridge funding not only on its own merits, but in the context of what they expect are comparable needs across the community.
“I’m open to it, it’s just hard to say that this is a higher priority than something else,” said Councilman Michael Cathcart, noting the council has yet to review American Rescue Plan funding proposals in their entirety.
But Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said the parks department has been “decimated by COVID,” and that the project would “put parks back on a trajectory to serving all the citizens.”
Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson asked Jones what would happen if the city chose not to fund the project, to which Jones replied the department may be forced to delay other projects in smaller neighborhoods.
If the bridge has to be shut down due to safety reasons, Jones said the city would use an alternate route across Spokane Falls Boulevard for the Centennial Trail.
If approved by the council, the bridge funding would not be the first time elected leaders have committed American Rescue Plan money to the city’s parks department. The city was awarded $81 million in COVID-19 relief from the federal American Rescue Plan last year.
On Monday, the City Council committed to spending its first $13.7 million from the American Rescue Plan. The funding was largely dedicated to increasing access to affordable housing, but the council also set aside $1.1 million for upgrades to equipment and bathrooms in parks, particularly those in lower-income census tracts.
The parks department was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to city officials. Much of its revenue from in-person programs, like recreational sports leagues, quickly dried up in 2020. It finished 2020 with revenues 27%, about $1.6 million in total, below what had originally been projected.
The council is likely to make a decision on the bridge funding request later this month.
Work to watch for
Wall Street between Main Avenue and Spokane Falls Boulevard downtown will be closed Saturday for crane work.
The west travel lane of Stevens Street between Spokane Falls Boulevard and Riverside Avenue will be closed and merged through Friday for Palouse Power work.
Quanta is working on the north travel lane of Third Avenue between Scott and Arthur streets, and Arthur street between Newark and Celesta avenues has been reduced to one lane through Feb. 4.