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Garco Construction in line to build University District pedestrian bridge for $9.5 million

January 4, 2017 GMT

Garco Construction, Inc., a Spokane company in charge of several multimillion-dollar contracts with the city, is in line to build the long-awaited, $9.5 million pedestrian and bicycle bridge in the burgeoning University District.

The Spokane City Council is expected to vote on the contract proposal Monday afternoon during its consent agenda, when no public testimony is taken. Garco’s bid of $9,499,047 exceeds an engineer’s estimate of total construction costs by a little less than 1 percent, but it was the lowest of the seven firms that provided quotes for the project.

Karl Otterstrom, chairman of the University District Development Association board and leader of strategic planning for Spokane Transit Authority, called the bid “a very tangible step” toward construction of a span first proposed in 2004.

“This is really a vision becoming a reality,” Otterstrom said.

Proponents of the project, including state lawmakers, representatives of Washington State University, city leaders and transit advocates, say the bridge will provide safe access for students and others to a new medical school in the district, which has seen more than $740 million in public and private investment since 2004. Critics, among them City Councilman Mike Fagan, have said the bridge’s price tag is too high and many members of the public won’t use the span.

Funds for the project come mostly from an $8.8 million allotment by the Washington Legislature in 2015. About $3.1 million will come from receipts of existing sales and property taxes within the University District’s public development authority, created by the City Council in 2012 to channel grant money and tax revenue toward the bridge project. Federal grants will be used to fund the balance of the project, including a plaza on the south landing site of the bridge supporting Spokane Transit Authority bus routes, city staff said.

“At the end of the day, it’s everybody’s tax money,” said Fagan, who was pondering moving the vote to the council’s evening agenda to enable public testimony. “The general public should see a benefit.”

Otterstrom said there already is considerable interest in developing land south of the railroad tracks, and expansion of STA services would enable easier travel between the University District and the lower South Hill’s health care hub.

City Council President Ben Stuckart pushed back on claims the project was too costly, saying the bridge would more than make up its price tag in spurring economic development nearby.

“The private investment in the south University District within the next five years will swamp the public investment in that area,” Stuckart said. “To say that it’s too much money, when we’re actually seeing the potential for economic development, that’s just total hogwash.”

City Councilwoman Amber Waldref said she hoped the contract would be approved quickly, so that Garco can begin preparations for construction that will be constrained by railroad traffic.

“It’ll be really exciting to see real materials going up and something real being built. I hope it will excite the imagination of the community,” Waldref said.

Construction on the bridge is expected to start in March, with completion scheduled for fall 2018.

Garco recently completed work on the $43.6 million renovation and expansion of the Spokane Convention Center. The firm also is handling construction of a 2-million-gallon stormwater tank that will be buried near the Downtown Spokane Library this year at an estimated cost of $26 million.