Built in 1910, the East Olive Avenue Bridge is an early example of a bridge with steel-enforced concrete arches.
After 108 years, the historic East Olive Avenue Bridge is a goner.
Never heard of it?
Built in 1910, it’s an early example of a bridge with steel-enforced concrete arches. It was constructed by the city and the Inland Empire Railway, which ran streetcars over the bridge for nearly 30 years. It was raised over the Spokane River when the city was hurriedly replacing its wooden and steel truss bridges, giving the town a modern appearance and the unofficial moniker City of Bridges.
The Monroe Street Bridge is probably the best example of a concrete bridge’s beauty, but the East Olive Avenue Bridge is no slouch.
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Still haven’t heard of it? Fine, let’s call it by its modern name: the East Trent Bridge.
Even if you’ve never appreciated its charm, you’ve probably driven over it. It sees an average of 11,000 vehicle crossings a day — and it shows it. That’s why the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), which took over the bridge in 1937 when Trent became a secondary state highway, is about to replace it.
The modern $20 million span taking its place is funded by the Federal National Highway Performance Program, Federal Surface Transportation Program, State of Washington Motor Vehicle Account and State of Washington Transportation Partnership Act of 2005.
“Underneath the pavement are train-track ties because it used to have a trolley,” said Al Gilson, spokesman with WSDOT, of the older bridge. “It’s bumpy, and it’s bumpy. We just can’t put any more asphalt on it. We can’t keep patching the roadway. So it’s a full replacement.”
And that’s what has Megan Duvall, the historic preservation officer with the city and county, a bit down.
The bridge meets the criteria to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places due to its contribution to Spokane’s rapid development in the early 20th century. Since the state owns the bridge and is building its replacement with some federal funding, they’re obligated to look at the project’s impact on historic resources.
“Demolishing it is obviously an adverse effect, in preservation language,” Duvall said.
That said, she isn’t agitating for the project to stop, or to have the replacement look exactly like its historic forebear.
Instead, she and a few other interested parties are trying to think of ways to “offset the loss of the bridge” in some way.
“I had some great big ideas that have all been shot down for one reason or the other,” Duvall said. “I thought it’d be cool to have projectors built into the new bridge that would project images of the old bridge into the water. Kind of like a shadow of the old bridge.”
Turns out, you can’t shine lights on the river for ecological reasons.
Other ideas floating around include having WSDOT buy some riverfront land near the bridge and create a new spot for the public to access the river, or have it fund improvements of the Centennial Trail near the bridge, or create a local historic district along East Sprague Avenue.
“That’s a lasting thing that has a direct impact on Spokane,” Duvall said of the Sprague idea.
Still, the group of consulting parties — which includes retired bridge engineers and representatives from the Historic Bridge Foundation, the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation and HistoricBridges.org — aren’t quite on the same page yet, and the deadline looms. The bridge is currently being designed by engineers in Olympia and construction is expected to start in 2019.
“We’ve thrown a lot of ideas around,” Duvall said. “It’s going to be interesting. We really can’t make up for the loss of a historic property, but there are some things we can get back.”