The North Spokane Corridor project should be funded fully on its present timeline. Any alternative plan for the $1.49 billion project is unacceptable.
Advocates for the project thought funding was a done deal—or as close to a done deal there can be for a state-funded project for which funding is approved in two-year increments. However, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed zeroing out funding on the north-south freeway for the next four fiscal years in his 2023-2025 biennial transportation budget. If the state Legislature were to pass the budget as recommended, the change would push back completion of the project to the 2033-2035 timeframe, up to seven years later than the current 2027-2028 targeted opening.
A lot can happen between now and when the state Legislature approves the final budget. Even so, Inslee’s perplexing pivot away from the North Spokane Corridor is a nightmare scenario for Eastern Washington. The project literally has been decades in the making. First conceived in 1946, the north-south freeway became an actual project with some preliminary work in 2001. Now, more than 20 years after that first groundbreaking, the project stands a little over half done in terms of miles of roadway. The Washington state Department of Transportation has completed about 5.5 miles of the 10.5-mile-long freeway, with another two miles of roadway scheduled to be finished late this year.
When opened, the highway will connect Interstate 90 to the south with U.S. 395 to the north, which is expected to move truck traffic off urban, north-south arterials.
All Spokane-area state legislators should be united in their opposition of the delay, and any advocates for the region who visit Olympia during the legislative session should voice their support for the project while there.
Fortunately, though not surprisingly, the opposition to the delay has been united and direct so far. Greater Spokane Incorporated, the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce, and many other organizations have made statements against the delay. Cheryl Stewart, executive director of the Inland Northwest Associated General Contractors might have said it best when she stated that disrupting the project’s timeline “will leave a giant hole in our region that we may never be able to dig our way out of.”
Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District delegation—Sen. Andy Billig and Reps. Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli, all Democrats—issued a statement denouncing Inslee’s proposal, saying they’ll work “to ensure (the North Spokane Corridor) is funded at the level necessary for it to be completed as fast as possible.”
It’s only fair to note that Inslee is proposing delays on many projects. Even so, it’s hard not to feel blindsided by this shift. And it’s unfortunate that advocates for Eastern Washington will have to direct energy toward re-securing project funding when they could be focused on housing, homelessness, and other pressing issues.
But for now, let’s make sure we keep this project on track and finish it as planned. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s essential to Spokane’s growth and prosperity.
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