Work on the $1.49 billion North Spokane Corridor project has hit a lull this year, despite the Washington state Legislature last year having approved $750 million to complete the long-awaited project.
That doesn’t mean, though, that contractors won’t be turning dirt on road projects in East Spokane this construction season.
The Washington state Department of Transportation’s Eastern Region has two sizable projects planned near the north-south freeway route this year—a roundabout at the intersection of Freya Street and Wellesley Avenue and a reconfiguration of the Freya Street-Interstate 90 interchange off-ramp.
Al Gilson, spokesman for the department, says although both projects happen to deal with Freya Street, neither will contribute to continuing work on extending the North Spokane Corridor from Hillyard to I-90.
“While it is in the same general vicinity as the continued work on the NSC, this roundabout is a separate local street improvement,” says Gilson. “Certainly as we build the NSC, we expect an increase in freeway traffic, and small projects like this will help with that anticipated extra traffic.”
Gilson says the department will see bids in April for the $2.5 million roundabout project, with construction planned to start this summer. Prior to the roundabout’s construction, the city of Spokane will first have to install new water and sewer lines at the intersection.
According to Gilson, the department’s only other large project planned for this year in the Spokane metro area is the reconfiguration of an off-ramp from I-90 to Freya. That project has an estimated cost of $3.5 million to $4 million.
Currently, westbound I-90 traffic can exit the freeway at Freya and Thor streets, after which vehicles pass through a traffic light at Second Avenue and Freya. Department officials hope to ease congestion at the westbound exit, which often backs up to the freeway during busy commuter hours, adding to the potential for rear-end collisions.
“We’re moving the off-ramp closer to Havana Street, and then routing that traffic onto Second Avenue,” says Gilson.
The project will improve congestion not only on the ramp itself but on Freya Street as well, by changing the traffic signal at the Second and Freya intersection.
“Right now, the light has three phases—one for the exit, one for through traffic on Second, and one for traffic northbound on Freya,” says Gilson. “By moving the exit, Second Avenue traffic and freeway traffic can be consolidated, cutting congestion and allowing more room for vehicle storage. Overall, the intersection area and the off-ramp will be much more efficient.”
Gilson says construction of that project is expected to begin this summer and should finish before the end of the construction season.
While it’s expected that that exit will eventually match up with plans for the interchange at the south end of the North Spokane Corridor, Gilson says that is a long way off.
“This current Freya off-ramp project is not related to the north-south freeway. We’re still a number of years away from building new freeway components in the Interstate 90 interchange area,” he says.
So far, the department has completed 5 1/2 miles of the North Spokane Corridor’s planned 10.5 miles, but it has halted work on that massive, multiyear endeavor for now, having completed the projects it was funded for this year.
“Additional projects for the next five miles from the vicinity of Freya and Francis on down to the Interstate 90 interchange will probably start closer to summer 2017,” says Gilson.
He says although future projects are being mapped out to complete the corridor, the Legislature only approves spending two years at a time, and amounts can shift in future sessions.
“We have to break it down into constructible segments, moving along in accordance with the legislative funding stream,” says Gilson.
Construction contracts for projects are coordinated with the anticipated flow of new gasoline tax receipts, which are used to pay for the work.
The department reports that so far the project has received $140 million in federal funding, and $475 million in state funding, adding up to a total of $615 million spent on the project so far.
An estimated $750 million in funding to complete the North South Corridor was included in the Connecting Washington package passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Jay Inslee last summer. Gilson says that estimate ends up being about $880 million when adjusted for inflation, as the project is spread out and expected to wrap up in about 2030.
Construction on the NSC is expected to continue north to south, although some unexpected challenges might arise that could result in changes to the freeway’s design.
One such issue that already is causing evaluation of design plans is environmental contamination left in the area by various industrial businesses.
“The railroad and other industrial entities were in that area for some time, so there are a range of contaminants there,” acknowledges Gilson. “We’re working with the Department of Ecology and the railroad to identify those areas and refine our designs to accommodate that.”
Two large projects related to the North South Corridor plan wrapped up earlier this year. Those included completion of a realignment of a section of Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway and extension of the Children of the Sun trail project, which began in 2013, as well as Francis Avenue improvements.
The $31 million Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway realignment project was finished in October, having begun in 2013. The project included realigning seven miles of rail line and building two freeway bridges and two pedestrian bridges, as well as extending the Children of the Sun trail into the Hillyard neighborhood. Apollo Inc., of Kennewick, Wash., was the contractor for that project.
The Francis Avenue improvements project, which began in the fall of 2012, was completed in last April.
That project replaced the former 160-foot long Francis Avenue Bridge there with a 455-foot long structure.
Subscribe today to our free E-Newsletters!SUBSCRIBE