Spokane Journal of Business

Spokane Transit Authority eyes big West Plains project

$12 million transit center aimed at boosting capacity, efficiency

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-—Spokane Transit Authority
The envisioned West Plains Transit project is eyed near the Medical Lake interchange off Interstate 90. Spokane Transit Authority is seeking engineering and design consultants for the project.

Spokane Transit Authority is in the early stages of planning for a $12 million West Plains transit center aimed at increasing passenger capacity and better connecting small cities west of Spokane.

STA is seeking outside engineering and design consultants for what it’s calling the West Plains Transit Project, which as planned would be located southwest of the Medical Lake interchange on Interstate 90. The project, as envisioned, would have a park-and-ride facility, transit center, and a flyer stop in the median of I-90 accessed by a pedestrian bridge, says Karl Otterstrom, STA’s director of planning. 

A flyer stop is a freeway median bus lane that, along with the pedestrian walkway, enables buses to drop off and pick up passengers and connect with other buses without exiting the freeway. 

STA is considering trying to acquire 8 to 10 acres for the transit center, but hasn’t made any offers on land there yet, Otterstrom says. Currently there is a 16-acre vacant property there. 

At this point, he says, there is no firm date set for the beginning of construction.

“It all depends on procuring construction funding,” he says. 

STA received in July a $950,000  congestion mitigation and air quality improvement grant from the Spokane Regional Transportation Council. The grant is combined with about $150,000 of STA  funds, which is mostly tax and fare revenues set aside for capital projects, to make up the $1.1 million to pay for the initial design and engineering phases, Otterstrom says. 

The $1.1 million is included in the estimated $12 million total, he says. 

The agency is hoping to secure funding for the bulk of the project through a state regional mobility grant program, he says, through which the state distributes funds for projects that improve transportation mobility and reduce traffic congestion. The program usually has about $40 million to distribute each biennium, Otterstrom says, with the state Legislature making the final decision on what projects get funded. The next opportunity to apply for the program will come next fall, he says.  

“We probably will be asking for funding over two biennia,” Otterstrom says. 

Susan Meyer, CEO of STA, says that requirements imposed by the Federal Highway Administration through the Washington state Department of Transportation will be part of the project’s total cost.

Some of those requirements include a justification report made to the FHA and certain design standards set by the Washington DOT. 

The project would connect small cities on the West Plains, Otterstrom says. Currently, any bus rider hoping to travel between Cheney, Medical Lake, and Airway Heights has to go through The Plaza, STA’s main transit center, located at 701 W. Riverside downtown. 

Also, the project would provide transportation to those who work in the growing industrial area south of the interchange, Otterstrom says. There isn’t transit access in that area, he says, except for a limited area on the north side of the freeway, with no safe way for pedestrians to get to it. 

More than 4,000 people currently use the bus system to travel between Cheney and Spokane, and the project is expected to increase efficiency and effectiveness for those commuters, Otterstrom says. 

“This is an opportunity to tap into the bus service and make it more accessible,” he says. 

Otterstrom also says the facility could help to clear up traffic on I-90 in the future.

“Within the fourth year of operations, the facility will reduce congestion by eliminating 1.1 million vehicle miles traveled annually,” he claims. 

Meyer says the project shouldn’t add significant operating costs to STA. 

“In this case, the capital project is the cost of the whole project because we have a robust service there already, and we’re just going to make it available to others,” she says. 

Meyer says STA could just provide additional bus routes instead of building the facility, but in 15 or so years the cost would equal that of building the new facility. 

She says Greater Spokane Incorporated has had this project on its agenda for the state Legislature for the last year. The project is also part of the Spokane Regional Transportation Council’s long-term transportation plan, Horizon 2040. 

Otterstrom says, “What’s exciting is that it’s really on the leading edge of the growth spurt out there, so we’re ready. As that region grows, transit will be an option for more people.”

Meyer says a report released recently by the American Public Transportation Service on the millennial generation and its transportation habits says that many millennials are driving less than other generations. 

“There are going to be 100,000 more people in our region in the next 20 years,” Meyer says. “The demographics of our area are changing. Data from the 2010 census shows us there are more households without children or single households, who are more likely to use transit, and it requires us to think about transportation in a new way.”

Katie Ross
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Reporter Katie Ross covers manufacturing, hospitality, and government at the Journal of Business. An outdoor enthusiast and snowboard fanatic, Katie is a recent graduate of Gonzaga University.  

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