Spokane Journal of Business

STA moves forward with West Plains transit project

Organization also slated to vote on 10-year plan

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Spokane Transit Authority is moving forward with its plans for an envisioned $14.8 million West Plains Transit Center, including applying for funding and contracting for the design of the facility, says Karl Otterstrom, STA’s director of planning. 

The facility, as planned, would be located southwest of the Medical Lake interchange on Interstate 90. It would have a park-and-ride facility, transit center, and a flyer stop in the median of I-90 accessed by a pedestrian bridge. 

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 transit without exiting the freeway. 

Otterstrom says STA has surveyed the 16-acre proposed site for the center, and hopes to purchase 8 to 10 acres of it.  

“Appraisals will come next, once we refine the parcel boundary,” he says. “The appraisal will have to be approved by the Federal Transit Administration before we can move forward.”

STA received in July 2013 a $950,000 congestion mitigation and air-quality improvement grant from the Spokane Regional Transportation Council. The grant was combined with about $150,000 of STA funds to raise the $1.1 million to pay for the initial design and engineering phases of the transit center project. That $1.1 million is included in the total project cost of $14.8 million, Otterstrom says. 

In summer 2014, STA contracted with Chicago-based transportation engineering and project management firm HW Lochner to design the facility, he says. 

Also this past summer, the organization began working on an interchange justification report for the project, something that’s required by the federal government, Otterstrom says. 

 “Any changes to access, any time we change the ramps or provide new access, it has to be approved,” he says.

Otterstrom says there are several design alternatives for the transit center that are included in the justification report, including different access points and the planned pedestrian bridge and flyer stop in the middle of the freeway. 

Otterstrom says that, depending on funding, construction on the facility could begin in the first part of 2017.

STA is seeking a regional mobility grant from the Washington State Department of Transportation to fund a chunk of the project, about $8.7 million over two biennia, Otterstrom says. 

“We’re seeking about $1.7 in the first biennium,” he says. 

The organization submitted its request for the funding in October, Otterstrom says, and could begin receiving the funds next year for the 2015-17 biennium. 

“If we get it, they program it for the rest of the funding in the second biennium,” he says. “So it would be a significant boost to the project to receive that grant.”

STA also supports the Washington state Department of Transportation’s project to improve Exit 272 on I-90, which will be near the transit center. 

“If you’re following the (Greater Spokane Incorporated) legislative agenda, their first transportation project priority was the North Spokane Corridor, and the second was Exit 272,” Otterstrom says. 

As it is today, the amount of industrial traffic causes delays, especially for traffic trying to turn at the interchange, Otterstrom says. He says the state transportation department is looking at putting in roundabouts and other improvements.

Otterstrom says that such improvements would complement the transit facility, and help keep traffic flowing. 

“In the future, if we’re exiting off the highway in 2020, it would add an additional 15 to 16 minutes of travel time to serve the park-and-ride without having the freeway improvements,” he says. 

Otterstrom says there’s been some talk of building just the park-and-ride facility and not the pedestrian bridge and flyer stop. 

However, he says, “If in 2040 we don’t have this (overall) facility in place, we could spend as much as an additional 35 minutes off the freeway because of how bad traffic will be.”

Otterstrom says that, with the full facility built, the delay could be around eight to 10 minutes. 

“There’s a delay in any case, more so than we want,” he says. 

As of press time, the STA board of directors also was planning to put its 10-year STA Moving Forward Implementation Plan to a vote on Thursday, Dec. 18. There are two actions the board could take on the plan, Otterstrom says. 

“One is to adopt the plan as an implementation for the next 10 years or so,” Otterstrom says. “It goes through 2026 because that’s when we complete the acquisition of all our replacement buses. It’s also a plan to maintain services and grow by 25 percent, and grow ridership by 30 percent.”

Otterstrom says the plan also contains investments in major capital projects, as well as improvements to services and facilities.

“The second item is to place a ballot measure on the April 2015 ballot,” he says. “It’ll ultimately be up to them (the board) to ask the voters at this time to fund this plan. “

In order to fund the plan fully, voters would have to approve a sales tax increase of three-tenths of one cent, Otterstrom says. 

“Half of that sales tax goes towards maintaining the system we have,” he says. A large part of that maintenance is replacing aging buses, Otterstrom says. 

“They go about half a million miles before we retire them,” he says. 

Otterstrom says there also has been discussion of whether a partial plan could be an option. 

“The challenge would be deciding what to put in that partial plan,” he says. “The draft, as it is, has all the projects funded. If we went to two-tenths of one cent, two-thirds of the new projects would need to be eliminated.”

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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