Everyday Cyclist: New Bike/Ped Bridge For Spokane?

The Iron Bridge is not a well-known bridge to most folks who live in Spokane. If you travel the Centennial Trail from Riverfront Park to Mission Park, the Iron Bridge is the big black rail bridge you see as you come down the Hamilton Street overpass. In fact, if you were to continue down the Hamilton overpass and keep a straight line over the river, you’d be crossing the Iron Bridge. The railroad bridge was built in 1911. It was deprecated in 1973 during the downtown revitalization in preparation for the World’s Fair in 1974.

Today, this bridge stands ready to serve as an obvious addition to the Centennial Trail. The Iron Bridge is the cornerstone foundation for future trail and bike route development to connect the East Central and Chief Gary neighborhoods to downtown.

Kent Hull, a developer and a primary investor in Iron Bridge LLC is eager for the city to pick up the Iron Bride project and see it through. Iron Bridge LLC is currently developing a 19-acre riverfront business park on the other side of the bridge. According to Hull, the LLC has spent over $100,000 for bridge-related design work, trail improvements, and engineering studies in an effort to push the city to pick up the project.

Iron Bridge LLC clearly has much to gain by the revitalization of the Iron Bridge, but so do the adjoining neighborhoods, schools, and businesses. The connectivity with Gonzaga, the U-district, and the Chief Gary and Logan neighborhoods is obvious. In fact, the Gonzaga University Master Plan identifies the area east of the Iron Bridge as a “catalyst” area. On the west side, the redevelopment of the Bayou building and commercial development planned for Brown Building under the Hamilton St. overpass make the connection even more valuable.

Cyclists that attempt east-west traversals of the city core today would appreciate a quieter alternative to Mission, Sprague, or Trent Avenues.

Imagine a bicycle and pedestrian-friendly loop that goes through Chief Gary neighborhood, the East Central neighborhood, through the old Playfair site, and back over the Iron Bridge.
Or imagine a trail running along the eastern shore of the river parallel to Riverton Ave and terminating at the northeast corner of the SCC campus. The finished product would provide multi-use trail (no car traffic) access from downtown to SCC.

In most cities trail plans like this are killed instantly by the fact that the right-of-way is impossibly expensive to buy. We are in a unique position for this particular set of potential projects in that the City owns all of the critical pieces to make both of these loops a reality. The City owns the bridges (both the Iron Bridge and the Playfair-Fiske St. foot bridge); it owns the shoreline right-of-way; it owns Playfair; and it owns all the streets to hook these routes together.

Benjamin Gettleman, Manager of Trails Development for the national organization, Rails to Trails Conservancy, calls the Iron Bridge “a very unique opportunity.” His organization has been working with the City and with Iron Bridge LLC toward the goal of renovating the bridge. Further, he says, “we often see these kinds of bridges in rural areas; but to have a bridge in this condition right downtown is an amazing opportunity.”

As such, Gettlemen is working with the city to identify potential funding to refurbish the Iron Bridge. To qualify for grant funding, the Iron Bridge must be included in regional and/or city plans. Although the Iron Bridge has been a primary goal for the Logan neighborhood since 1995 and is generally a well-known, if not championed, project in City Hall, it is not on any official set of plans. It will be included in the Master Bike Plan, but that plan is at least a year away from inclusion in the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

Enter the Spokane County Regional Trail Plan. The Planning Commission is updating the Regional Trail Plan this year and has recently added the Iron Bridge project to the draft plan. Mary Verner has been quick to embrace the plan. In a January 14th letter to the Planning Commission, Mayor Verner requests “that the improvement of the Iron Bridge and connection between the Centennial Trail and the Ben Burr Trail be identified as a planned facility in the Spokane County Regional Trails Plan.”

The Planning Commission will hold at least one public workshop and at least one hearing regarding the inclusion of the Iron Bridge on the final Regional Trails Plan. Getting the Iron Bridge in the Regional Trails plan is the next step toward realizing the potential it can offer as a connection into the core of the city. As always, public enthusiasm and support is the best method for moving projects like this forward. If you like the idea, show up to the workshop and the hearing and tell them so. For information, call Building and Planning at (509) 477-3675.

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