Pedestrian bridge rises in Spokane’s University District

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

(As reported in The Spokesman-Review by Nick Deshais)

Construction of a pedestrian bridge connecting Spokane’s University District to East Sprague Avenue is well underway, with landings and anchors already set in concrete on either side of the BNSF railroad tracks.

The suspension bridge’s central arch, which at 120 feet tall will become a landmark on the city skyline, will begin to rise in October.

“That’s when you’ll see something really happening from a distance,” said Marlene Feist, director of strategic development for the city’s public works department. Feist said the arch structure will be about 30 feet tall before construction stops for the winter.

The nearly $12 million University District Gateway Bridge is expected to be complete and open September 2018, a central feature for a part of town that has been drawing heavy public and private investment in recent years.

Anchored on the north landing by the medical campuses of the University District, and on the south by a major biosciences proposal from Avista Corp., the bridge will be traversed by some of the best-educated, and most well-heeled, people in Spokane once completed.

Spokane-based Garco Construction won the bid to do the construction earlier this year, with a $9.5 million proposal, the lowest of seven bids. Work began in March.

Feist pointed to other developments in the East Central neighborhood signifying a part of town on the rise: the street work on East Sprague Avenue, paving and extending the Ben Burr Trail, the extension of Martin Luther King Jr. Way, new buildings on Sprague and other infrastructure projects.

“We haven’t done a survey yet, but anecdotally, we know we’re seeing private development investment and activity on that corridor,” she said.

But it’s the public investment that has created the most change so far.

Just last week, the inaugural class of students at the new Washington State University medical school were welcomed to town with a white coat ceremony, signaling a new era in medical education in Spokane. WSU also has its colleges of pharmacy and nursing on the Spokane campus, as well as its health policy and administration, nutrition and exercise physiology, and speech and hearing sciences programs.

The University District also houses a medical school partnership between the University of Washington and Gonzaga University, and a newly opened medical residency clinic. Eastern Washington University has its physical and occupational therapy programs on the campus as well.

Since 2004, more than $740 million of public and private investment has gone into the 770-acre University District, and it’s expected to attract increasing levels of research and product development.

On the other side of the tracks, Avista is planning what it describes as a major bioscience hub, with a six-story, 140,000-square-foot multiuse building filled with high-tech labs, offices, classrooms and study areas. The proposed building is the first of two phases of the so-called Catalyst Project and would be situated on 5.5 acres at the south landing of the pedestrian bridge.

A new public plaza is also planned for the bridge’s south landing, at the intersection of Sprague and Sherman Street. Spokane Transit Authority will run shuttles from the medical facilities on the South Hill to the plaza, connecting the hill with the medical education district.

The bridge, and the intense research focus at both ends, will provide a connection for walkers and cyclists between downtown and the East Sprague district, which is currently undergoing massive change under the city’s Targeted Investment Pilot program. The project points tens of millions of dollars in numerous municipal funding streams at that part of town, with the aim of jump-starting transformation in the struggling community.

The bridge will provide just one of the handful of new connections between downtown and East Central, a neighborhood that has historically been cut off from the core due to road and highway building.

The city anticipates completing the extension of MLK Way to Trent beginning next year. The rutted stretch of Sprague that touches the south end of the bridge will be redone in 2019.

The bridge, however, will be completed first.

“It should be pretty exciting when it’s done,” Feist said.

Photo caption: The ramp to the future pedestrian bridge takes shape on Tuesday on the south side of the railroad tracks across from the University District. The corresponding ramp on the other side is also under construction. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)