Spokane Journal of Business

Congress gives light-rail here initial OK

Likelihood of Spokane getting $110 million still is far from certain

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Congress has included a light-rail system for Spokane in the final version of a major federal transportation-spending bill that now is awaiting a signature from President Clinton. The legislation eventually could lead to federal spending of about $110 millionan amount thats equal to about a third of the proposed systems cost.

It appears unlikely, however, that Spokane will get that money in the near term, says Jerry Lenzi, regional administrator here for the Washington state Department of Transportation.

Spokanes proposed light-rail project is listed among 176 rail projects for which dollar amounts werent included in the legislation, Lenzi says. Only a total of $90 millionor less than what was requested for the Spokane project aloneis available in the bill for all of those projects, he says.

Even though Lenzi expects that further action would have to occur before Spokanes project would be funded, he says the projects inclusion in the bill is significant. It provides that visibility, that shot over the bow.

The Spokane area isnt ready to start constructing such a project today, but if it gets ready later, inclusion in this years transportation bill definitely would be a plus since members of Congress already will be familiar with the project, he says.

The president still has yet to sign that $210 billion transportation-spending bill into law, and Glenn Miles, transportation manager at the Spokane Regional Transportation Council, says that could happen within a week or so.

If federal money eventually is appropriated for the project here, another $200 million would have to be raised from Washington state and local funding sources. Miles has said hes optimistic that funding would come together.

If it did, sleek, modern trains would whisk passengers between Liberty Lake and downtown. The trains would follow a route that would include Riverside downtown, Union Pacific Railroad right of way, and old Milwaukee Road right of way. Major stops would be built at Liberty Lake, University City, the Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds, and downtown.

  • Marlene Mehlhaff

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