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

Artistic touches added to North-South Freeway as it extends through neighborhoods

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Artistic touches are being added to the North-South Freeway as it continues to be built through Spokane neighborhoods.

In Hillyard, for example, bridge abutments at Wellesley Avenue will have a life-size mural of a railroad locomotive. A trestle pattern will be on the retaining walls.

Further south the theme is nature. There will be day and night mountain skyline scenes on the Euclid Avenue bridge abutments and wild horses on the retaining walls.

The section now going up next to Spokane Community College will have medallions stamped in the concrete under the bridge deck that feature moose, feathers and balsam root.

It was all part of community engagement set up by the Washington State Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the project.

“The community actually influenced where this would go,” said Charlene Kay, DOT planning and strategic community partner director. “They really wanted to see this along the entire corridor so they were strategic in where they asked for art. These are gateways into places.”

The art designs were created after years of public input.

“Each neighborhood had their own preferences for themes,” said DOT project engineer Terrance Lynch. “It was kind of a back and forth process.”

Much of the bridge abutment and retaining wall art was designed in-house, but DOT hired Spokane artist Melissa Cole to design the art under the overpass at SCC. That includes feathers and balsam root on the columns, Ponderosa branches and Red Band trout on the cross beams and medallions of moose and wild horses.

Cole said she was looking for things that would be found along the Spokane River as well as things that had ties to the Native American tribes who lived there.

“I also chose elements of those that were important and are still important to the local tribes,” she said.

She drew on her background as a zoologist when creating her designs.

Cole offered several options to the neighborhood for approval. Some were rejected, such as her blue herons and ospreys.

“There were probably 20 different things,” she said. “I did sketches and made a presentation.”

Cole said it was the intensive community involvement that drew her interest.

She created CAD drawings of the designs to be stamped into the concrete and sent the drawings to a company to create molds. Some have already been installed, but haven’t had any stain applied yet. “I’m looking forward to seeing that with some colors,” she said. “It’s been amazing watching it take shape. It’s exciting to have it in my backyard.”

Cole has done public art projects before and said she appreciates that DOT was willing to include art in the design of the new road. “If you can include artwork in infrastructure, I think it’s great,” she said. “It’s nice to beautify big slabs of concrete.”

The project also includes the extension of the Children of the Sun trail next to the road. The southern portion of the trail includes several plazas with lights and electrical outlets that can be used as community gathering places. “The trail in this section will be more connected to the community,” said Kay. “There’s a lot of interest in the trail.”

The sections of road and trail under construction are set for completion in 2023, said Lynch. A bridge over the Spokane River will be put out to bid next year and the road should be fully connected to Interstate 90 in 2028 or 2029, Lynch said.

“It’s a lot of work,” he said. “It’s a half a billion dollars of work still to do.”

As construction continues, so will the collaboration with the community.

Kay said she’s preparing to begin working with the neighborhoods between SCC and I-90 to get their input on what they would like to see in terms of art in their neighborhood. They’ll also be able to give input on which pedestrian bridge design should be used over I-90. “That will be a couple years of intensive engagement,” she said.