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

Not-so-Peaceful Valley: Maple Street Bridge construction comes with large cost for some

Maple Street Bridge night grinding is ahead of schedule and crews have moved to working on the southbound lanes.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Nighttime in Peaceful Valley has been anything but peaceful lately.

Work on the Maple Street Bridge, which began in August and is slated to continue through mid-November, has come with disruptions for commuters, but few locals have felt the impacts as deeply as those living underneath the roar of machinery every night. Residents throughout the neighborhood report being awakened repeatedly by the scraping of the bridge deck and the beeping of construction vehicles.

It’s a cost the city considered heavily before construction began, wrote Public Works spokeswoman Kirstin Davis.

“We completely understand the frustrations of impacted residents and truly do think about as many scenarios and consequences as possible,” Davis wrote in an email. “These improvements do have a life expectancy of 20+ years so it will be a long time before this is necessary again.”

In the end, Davis wrote the city believed the congestion that would be caused by detouring traffic during the day on Spokane’s busiest bridge needed to be mitigated. Traffic detouring into residential neighborhoods is one of the most frequent complaints during work on major roadways, Davis continued.

“The unfortunate consequence is that areas around the Maple St. Bridge are experiencing increased noise for some of the planned 10 weeks of the rebuild,” she added. “The project was scheduled for the fall when people are less likely to have windows open during the night.”

Tod Marshall questions that calculus. An English professor at Gonzaga University and former Washington state poet laureate, Marshall’s sleep has been so deeply affected during construction that he found himself nodding off in class.

“The equation is number of people impacted,” he said. “I think what that equation doesn’t take into account is the degree of impact – 80 to 100 people down here being completely sleep deprived is much more damaging than having to wait 20 minutes extra in traffic.”

Residents will get at least a brief reprieve later this week, Davis noted. After Tuesday night, the grinding of the old concrete surface of the bridge will be finished.

“This will give residents a break between then and at least the end of September,” Davis wrote. “There may be more overnight work to do in the remaining weeks of the project, however, the timing has not been confirmed.”

Marshall’s face lit up briefly when he was told that overnight construction was going to come to a pause Tuesday, but deflated a bit when informed it could resume again after the end of the month.

“So just as we get acclimated to the noise, we’ll go back to normal, we’ll be in this glorious peace for a little while, and then the noise comes back,” he said. “It’d be great if they just pushed through.”

Living under the bridge always comes with some noise, said Charles Blue, whose home sits in the shadow of Maple Street. Still, while some nights of the construction have been bearable, there are nights his whole house shakes.

Blue noted construction on the bridge came with a multimillion-dollar price tag, and then pointed at the deteriorating residential road in front of his house.

“It’s been this way for years,” Blue said. “They filled the potholes two years ago, and three months later the gravel is being thrown against the side of my car and into my grass.”

Greg King, a resident who has lived in the same home a short distance from the bridge since 1979, believes the impacts on him and his neighbors are a continuation of a trend since the decision was made to build Maple Street Bridge in the first place, bisecting the neighborhood and removing dozens of homes.

“We privatize profits and socialize costs,” he said. “You can’t help but have a feeling like it’s easy to let the cost fall onto these folks.”

King noted the bridge deck needed to be replaced as the material degraded, but that missing material didn’t simply disappear – the dust and particulates from the old road had fallen on his neighborhood, along with the exhaust and tire rubber from thousands of daily commuters.

“Where is that material?” he said, waving a hand at the air around him. “It’s tiny, but it’s here.”