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The Don Kardong Bridge near Gonzaga University will close next week for a major repair project largely funded by COVID-19 relief funds

The bridge named after Bloomsday’s originator and an early Centennial Trail champion will join the list of structures on the Spokane River being rebuilt on Monday.

The Don Kardong Bridge is long in need of repairs, trail and park officials said, and will close while Garco Construction completes a $3.2 million renovation of the structure. The bridge, originally built to carry Great Northern Railway carriages over the Spokane River near Gonzaga University in the 1920s, is ‘a vital connection’ along the roughly 40 miles of trail linking Spokane and Heart of D ‘Alene, said Loreen McFaul, executive director of the Friends of the Centennial Trail group.

“It’s high time to fix the bridge,” McFaul said.

Most of the money for the renovation comes from federal dollars allocated by Congress as part of the U.S. bailout, the third round of stimulus spending intended to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession that followed. The Spokane City Council earmarked $2.2 million in COVID-19 stimulus funds for the bridge project in April, increasing the initial outlay of COVID-19 stimulus dollars due to rising material costs. Friends of Centennial, along with Gonzaga University, the Lilac Bloomsday Association, and the University District Public Development Authority, also helped fund the project. The bridge will also be funded by a $726,000 grant from the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition.

Spokane Parks manager Garrett Jones said working with other groups ensures community ownership of the bridge and the relationship could open up other opportunities with Parks in the future.

“I think the perfect storm happened, with all these opportunities,” Jones said.

Abandoned during the rerouting of trains around the city center that occurred in the run up to Expo ’74, the bridge was reopened with a new deck and paint, and renamed Kardong in the summer of 1988. A year later, the first shovels hit the ground in the shadow of the aqua green bridge trusses for the construction of the Centennial Trail. But the deck had begun to rot and safety concerns forced the closure of viewing platforms extending to the waterline.

In the years that followed, a metal grate had been placed over wood on the east edge of the bridge that would freeze and become slippery in the winter, or heat up to scorching temperatures in the summer, Jones said.

“We’re really getting it down to that original crossing, which is still in great shape,” Jones said.

The new bridge will have a concrete deck, which will make maintenance easier and provide a better surface for walkers, joggers, cyclists and more during the winter months, McFaul said.

“We see our street intersections moving to concrete, and this bridge should follow,” she said.

The plan includes the removal of trusses, which are non-structural, the installation of improved lighting and railings, and accessibility improvements.

The new bridge will also pay homage to the medallions that were installed on the causeway of the Centennial Trail, known as the “Miracle Mile Medallions” sold during the initial fundraising for the project over 30 years ago. The drawings will be included in the engraving of the repaired bridge railing, McFaul said, preventing the vandalism that had forced park officials to remove and store them safely in recent years.

The city’s parks department expects the bridge to be closed on May 27 with project completion scheduled for April. In the meantime, bridge users will be directed to a detour that will lead south from the bridge site to Spokane Falls Boulevard near the junction with the Ben Burr Trail. Pedestrians will be able to use this bridge to cross the river and then return to the Centennial Trail along North Cincinnati Street on the Gonzaga campus. Access to the river will be closed to the bridge during construction.

The Don Kardong Bridge is the last in a series of spans over the Spokane River that were closed during reconstruction. The East Trent Avenue Bridge has been closed since June 2020 for a $25 million replacement project by the Washington Department of Transportation. The Post Street Bridge near downtown is also the subject of an $18.6 million replacement project, which is expected to be completed next winter. The Parks Department also closed the second suspension bridge at Riverfront Park ahead of a planned rehabilitation project.

Redirecting some funds from the Parks Department to offset the extra materials and labor cost will delay some projects in other areas of the city, Jones said. This includes irrigation improvements in Coeur d’Alene Park, playground equipment in Wild Horse and Liberty Parks, and a path for students to get to school through Franklin Park. Those projects will be postponed, but eventually funded by the department, he said.

McFaul said when the Don Kardong Bridge is rebuilt it will be a more fitting tribute to its namesake

“This bridge has to be worthy of it, and it soon will be,” she said.

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