A long goodbye to the East Trent Bridge

Monday, June 8, 2020

(as reported in The Spokesman-Review on June 8 by Ted McDermott) 

Crews headed out to the East Trent Bridge on Monday morning and started undoing the work crews before them completed 110 years ago. They began by taking down railings and lighting, but eventually will have to tackle the tougher job: deconstructing the more than 500-foot-long, 40-footwide concrete span, removing its iconic Luten arches and yanking the piles that fix the structure in place from the bottom of the Spokane River. And as they remove the longstanding span, they will start building a new one with wider sidewalks, new bike lanes, one lane of traffic heading in each direction and design features aimed at “paying homage” to its predecessor, said Chad Simonson, the Washington State Department of Transportation engineer managing the project.

The entire process ought to be something to see, and John Bryant doesn’t intend to miss it.

Bryant owns No-Li Brewhouse, which sits just north of the bridge on the west bank of the river, with what he describes as the “best view in the city” of the work that will be ongoing for at least the next three years, right across from the brewery’s patio.

“You can sit and have a beer and watch the demolition and the construction,” Bryant said last week.

He hopes people will take advantage of the opportunity and plans to encourage them to do so by hosting events “that are timed with big construction or destruction of the bridge.” Bryant’s also aiming to capture the change for posterity: No-Li has hired a photographer to create a time-lapse record of the entire project.

It’s all part of No-Li’s effort to “make the best,” Bryant said, of what will undoubtedly be a major disruption for the brewery, its neighbors and the drivers who make an average of 12,000 trips per day across the bridge, many of them coming and going from Gonzaga or Interstate 90’s Hamilton Street exit.

Those looking to get from the area around Gonzaga to the Chief Garry Park neighborhood are being detoured south of the river, along Spokane Falls Boulevard, East Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Erie Street.

While the detour makes it harder for people to reach No-Li and a number of other area businesses and residences, Bryant said he’s grateful that WSDOT heard his and his neighbors’ pleas and agreed to keep open the connection from Columbus Street to Trent Avenue.

And Bryant said the nearly $26 million project will ultimately pay off for the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, though, there is a lot of work to be done to get the old bridge out and the new one in.

Simonson said crews will spend four construction seasons on the project.

This year, they hope to remove the west half of the bridge and install two of five new piers. Next year, they’ll aim to do the same thing on the east side. In 2022 they’ll finish removal, plant the last pier and start work on the structure above, with the aim of finishing the job in 2023.

“The biggest limitation we have has to do with when we can get in the water,” Simonson said of the construction schedule.

Crews will have to work around fish spawning schedules, stream flows and the need to deconstruct the existing bridge in a way that has the least impact on the river and those who live and work nearby.

As a result, Simonson said, “There will be a lot of time where it won’t seem like a lot is happening. ... This is a big, solid, beefy chunk of concrete that they’re going to have to take apart carefully.”

“There will be times when people will come by and nothing seems to be happening,” he said.

But while crews pause to wait for fish to spawn or concrete to cure or snowpack to stop melting, Simonson said, “I hope people can understand and not get frustrated that nothing’s being done.”

When complete, the new bridge will have a 10-footwide sidewalk on the south side, a 6-foot-wide sidewalk on the north side, two 5-foot-wide bike lanes and a 12-foot-wide vehicle lane heading in each direction. The new configuration will also include crash-worthy barriers to keep the sidewalks safe. In the current configuration, only railings separate the 4-foot-wide sidewalks from traffic.

While he said he and his colleagues have worked hard to make the new span “aesthetically pleasing” and to come up with a design that was at least “acceptable” to preservationists, Simonson acknowledged that “it’s difficult when you’re replacing such an icon. You can’t replace it. There’s always a sense of loss.”

Plans to replace the bridge have been underway since 2012, and last year the once-four-lane bridge was taken down to two lanes because it could no longer handle heavy traffic loads.

Now that work has finally begun, Simonson is already looking forward to standing on the bank – perhaps with a No-Li in his hand – and seeing it complete.

“This is the labor of love,” he said. “We’ve worked to build something that we can be proud of.”


Caption No-Li Brewhouse founder and owner John Bryant plans to host events connected to ongoing work on the East Trent Bridge, seen behind him.