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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Spokane

Getting There: Emergency closure of crumbling Magnolia Street pedestrian bridge frustrates some

A lot can change in five years.

In 2018, after the deadly collapse of a recently constructed pedestrian bridge in Miami, officials in Washington made assurances that the three pedestrian bridges over I-90 in Spokane were not at risk of collapse.

Five years later, the state Department of Transportation is looking a lot more nervously at the Magnolia Street pedestrian bridge that spans I-90.

“I don’t think catastrophic failure is likely, but safety is always our No. 1 priority,” said Ryan Overton, WSDOT Eastern Region spokesman.

Early Wednesday morning, citing concerns about corrosion and structural deficiency, the state closed the bridge to pedestrians. The center span of the bridge will be lifted and removed late Saturday night, and I-90 will be closed in the area during the deconstruction.

The Magnolia Street bridge, which first opened in 1969, is the only one slated for immediate removal, with pedestrian bridges at Custer Road and Regal Street remaining open for now.

Unlike those bridges, the Magnolia Street pedestrian bridge spans the entire highway without a center column. The joints where the bridge’s center span connects to ramps on either end have collected moisture and deicing chemicals for decades, slowly but surely causing corrosion, Overton said.

The bridge deck itself is also severely deteriorated, with crumbling cement and some areas where only rebar separated a pedestrian from the highway below.

In October, an inspection raised concerns, but the decision was made to leave the bridge open and conduct another inspection in a few months. That second inspection on Jan. 9 found that the extreme cold, runoff from snow and recent freeze-thaw cycles had accelerated damage to the joints.

Fixing the damage to the deck and joints would essentially entail redoing the entire structure, Overton said.

All three pedestrian bridges spanning the highway are already slated for replacement when the perennially delayed North Spokane Corridor is finally built. Rebuilding the bridge, only to possibly demolish it later this decade, didn’t make sense, Overton added.

“With the safety concerns, it’s more efficient for us to demolish and tear down the bridge now,” he said.

For many residents living near the bridge, the demolition makes little difference. Emery Pierce, who lives within a hundred feet of the southern end of the bridge, recalled arranging fights as a schoolkid on the bridge decades ago, but said he hasn’t used it in years.

A block away, the closure is an inconvenience for Kevin Daily, who goes on runs with his wife around the neighborhood that sometimes take them over the bridge, and who appreciates the easy access to the post office.

But the Dailys can just run a bit farther through the South Perry Street underpass, he said.

For some of their older neighbors, however, the news of the bridge’s demise came as a shock.

Christine Wilson’s husband bought the home in which she lives in 1965 for $1,000, she said. When asked how she feels about the closure, she made a cross with her fingers.

“Begone, Satan.”

Wilson frequently uses the bridge to access businesses on the north side of the highway and to walk home from the auto shop where she gets her car repaired. She and her neighbor, Marilynn Fuller, who also uses the bridge and does not drive, learned about the closure on the nightly news.

“Those of us that are old and used the bridge, nobody came around and asked us our opinion,” Wilson said. “They just do whatever the heck they want to do.”

Fuller noted that the bridge was not an unalloyed good. The bridge had been deteriorating, and with crime increasing in the area since she and Wilson moved there decades ago, it can be intimidating crossing the bridge without knowing who might be up there, she said.

Still, with a replacement bridge not anticipated until the construction of the North Spokane Corridor, which has an uncertain completion date, mobility remains a concern.

“They’ve been talking about that (highway) since the ’40s,” Fuller said. “They might find a solution, but by then we’ll be dead.”

There are plans for a stopgap solution to help residents travel across the freeway, Overton said, though WSDOT has not decided on what exactly that might look like. That decision is not expected until spring, but will include community engagement, he added.

“It could be a separate paved path for folks, and we’re also looking at potentially a shuttle service,” Overton said.

While Fuller and Wilson were skeptical about the logistics of making up for the bridge closure, they both agreed that a shuttle might be the best option. But having to walk nearly another mile to access the Regal Street pedestrian bridge in the meantime will be a struggle, they added.

“Walking gets to be a hassle, the older you get,” Wilson said.

Work to watch for

Cascade Cable work will cause lane closures on Upriver Drive between Ralph and Greene streets through Feb. 15.

Avista work will cause lane closures at Wellesley Avenue and Ash Street beginning Monday through Feb. 20.

Southbound Regal will have lane closures between Palouse Highway and 53rd Avenue beginning Thursday through March 9 for Sefnco Communications work.

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