by Pia K. Hansen

SPOKANE -- As the city is getting ready to rehabilitate the Monroe Street Bridge -- a project expected to begin late in 2002 and close down the bridge for 24 months -- the Spokane Regional Transportation Council (SRTC) continues its study of traffic flow in the Monroe-Lincoln corridor.

The next public meeting discussing the fifth alternative for redirecting traffic in the area is on Wednesday.

Congestion -- and the bad air quality that follows -- is a major concern on the two streets, where as many as 4,500 cars pass through in peak commute hours. It's been proposed to turn Lincoln and Monroe into a couplet, a solution some area business owners are opposed to.

"During the last meeting, several people asked if we would consider maintaining two-way traffic on both streets," says Glenn Miles, transportation manager at the SRTC. "This solution would give Lincoln one lane in each direction, with a center left-turn lane, as far up as to Indiana, and maintain two-way traffic on Monroe."

That proposal would satisfy Phil Mulligan, owner of the Gilded Lily, a florist shop on North Monroe. "I don't like couplets; I think they have a way of confusing people," he says. "And the way my store is set up with the marquee, it can only be seen by north-bound traffic. If they do a couplet, Monroe traffic would go south."

That said, Mulligan worries even more about what's going to happen to his flow of customers when the Monroe Street Bridge is closed down.

"What's going to kill business on North Monroe is the closing of the bridge," he says. "When you ask the city what they are going to do for Monroe Street businesses, they don't answer. Are they going to put up signs? Are we getting compensation? We don't know."

From the city's perspective, there's no question the bridge needs to be shut down.

"The concrete arches are in really poor condition, and they need to be replaced," says Jerry Sinclair, the city's project manager. "The tentative schedule is to start demolishing the bridge sometime late next year, and yes, the intent is to close the bridge for two years."

The current concrete arch bridge was built in 1910, and an engineering study from 1998 showed the bridge may have as few as five usable years left. It'll maintain its characteristic design after restoration.

Sinclair says there will be a public meeting in April, when people can share their concerns and suggestions about the bridge closing.

"We intend to keep the Post Street Bridge open, and that would be routed over to Monroe Street," he says. "That would increase local access, starting from the bridge and going north."

As for whether two-way traffic will be maintained on Monroe, Miles says it may be leaning that way. "It makes sense, also given the uncertainty about the vacant property to the west of Monroe," says Miles, referring to Metropolitan Mortgage's so-called Summit Property.

"How the [Summit] area develops would have an influence on what we should do with traffic in that area," says Miles. "We're recommending getting the involved stakeholders together and figuring this out, before we do anything else."

The public meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 28, at 6 pm at the Corbin Senior Center on 827 W. Cleveland. Call: 343-6370.

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