The Spokane area won a stunning victory last year when the Legislature voted to approve $750 million in funding to complete the North Spokane Corridor, also known as the north-south freeway.
Now, community and political leaders need to make sure that belated, conflicting ideas about altering the design of the remaining portion of that project don’t open the door for West Side interests to seek to divert that money for Puget Sound-area uses.
Advocates of the north-south freeway project, the origins of which date back decades, have been working too long and too hard on trying to lift the limited-access, East Spokane highway from concept to reality to allow critics to endanger approved funding.
As a community, we must stand with one loud voice that yells, “Proceed as planned!”
Those thoughts come to mind following a recent Journal story in which Richard Burris, president of the Greater Hillyard Business Association, floated the notion of possibly constructing a portion of the corridor as a modern surface street system, rather than a freeway.
He told the Journal he wants to see if federal transportation planners think a surface street system with synchronized traffic signals would provide an improved transportation corridor while better connecting the northeast Spokane community.
The comments from Burris, who claims 30 years in urban and transportation planning, came following a U.S. Department of Transportation-led workshop here focused on related design topics. It included some discussion of locations around the country where freeways were removed and replaced with enhanced surface streets while still meeting community and transportation goals.
Spokane was one of four communities that recently won an Every Place Counts Design Challenge Grant through the federal agency, and the grant included the workshop held here. Every Place Counts is intended to help reconnect communities that are geographically divided by freeways and to help ensure that other communities aren’t disconnected similarly by projects underway.
To be sure, some Hillyard business owners are anxious about the north-south freeway’s potential impact on their efforts to revitalize the business district there. Their worries probably have intensified as a result of discussions related to a nearby contaminated site in the path of the planned freeway route that has complicated planning for the next phase of the roughly half-completed 10.5-mile project.
Thus far, though, the state Department of Transportation rightly has signaled that it has little interest in dramatically modifying the project’s design beyond what is required to bypass or mitigate the contaminated area.
The West Side’s transportation funding needs are so great that politicians there could be expected to go after legislatively approved, but undisbursed North Spokane Corridor funding if they sensed a lack of consensus on this side of the state about how that money should be spent. Project supporters here should take steps to make sure that doesn’t happen.
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