Spokane Journal of Business

The long road to Appleway Trail

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An old railroad right-of-way is being converted into a bicycle-and-pedestrian path in Spokane Valley, to be called Appleway Trail. Construction started late this summer, and by the end of the year—weather permitting—bicyclists, rollerbladers, dog walkers, and anybody else will able to use this Centennial Trail-like stretch one block south of Sprague Avenue, between University and Pines roads. 

Spokane Valley officials and other city advocates gathered last week to celebrate the start of construction on the $1.4 million project, which will include a plaza-style entry at University and picnic and garden areas along the way. 

Spokane Valley Mayor Dean Grafos has said a strong parks and trail system are needed to enhance livability in the Valley, and he’s correct. Having more recreational amenities closer to the population base of the Valley is essential; Centennial Trail is an irreplaceable asset next to the river, but it is far removed from most neighborhoods, with most users having to drive to the trail in order to bike and walk.

I didn’t attend the ceremonial groundbreaking for Appleway Trail, but news of it reminded me of another celebration that occurred in the Valley almost 15 years ago. Back then, before the Valley was an incorporated city, the Sprague-Appleway couplet opened to much fanfare and was ballyhooed by transportation planners as a visionary project that anticipated future traffic volumes, rather than reacting to existing congestion. 

The plan back then was to extend the couplet farther east, using the right of way that presently is being used for the Appleway Trail—the couplet currently ends at what will be the western entrance to the trail. 

But what the visionaries for the couplet didn’t see coming was the backlash the couplet project brought almost immediately from Sprague Avenue property owners and real estate developers alike. Within a year, critics were blaming the project for the high retail vacancy rates along Sprague Avenue. Some remain just as vocal today. 

Debates bubble up every few years or so about whether Sprague should be restored as a two-way thoroughfare. That doesn’t need to happen, but as everybody knows by now, neither should the couplet be extended. 

And a new pedestrian-and-bicycle trail is an excellent solution in a city that’s low on quality park and recreational amenities—especially when compared with neighboring Spokane to the west and Liberty Lake to east. 

Eventually, the trail is expected to extend all the way to Liberty Lake, but the next leg of the project, which will extend it from Pines eastward to Evergreen Road, isn’t expected to be in design until 2016, with work to start in 2017. At that rate, it could take a decade to reach Liberty Lake. 

One would think the Valley leaders could find a way to pick up the pace so that the swath of unused land that cuts through the city can be improved sooner than that. Certainly, we’ve seen other rails-to-trails projects in the Inland Northwest come together much more quickly. 

Future phases aside, the Appleway Trail project puts Spokane Valley on the right path, one that its residents likely will find less controversial but equally as useful as the couplet.

Linn  Parish
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Editor Linn Parish has worked for newspapers and magazines since 1996, with the bulk of that time being at the Journal. A Montana boy who has called Spokane home for some time now, Linn likes Northwest trails, Deep South foods, and lead changes in the ninth inning.

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