The Journal’s View: Airway Heights voters should approve investment in streets
~October 20th, 2022
Crucial street improvements in Airway Heights, where a large amount of the Spokane area’s industrial growth is occurring, will benefit the region as whole. Voters in the quickly growing city should approve the proposed renewal of the transportation benefit district there to ensure funding of several necessary projects during the next decade.
As we’ve stated consistently in this space, investment in infrastructure is essential to maximize economic development opportunities in the Inland Northwest.
The city of Airway Heights is asking for three-tenths of 1% in sales tax for roads with the measure that will be on the Nov. 8 general-election ballot. That is an increase compared with the two-tenths of a percent tax that’s sunsetting, but it’s a necessary bump due to increased construction costs.
If approved, the renewed tax would equate to 30 cents on a $100 purchase, up from 20 cents per $100 spent now.
Last year, the city collected $635,000 for the transportation district. At the new rate, it would have been roughly $300,000 more than that. Airway Heights city manager Albert Tripp points out studies that have shown a significant portion of the sales tax revenue generated in the city—up to 75%, he contends—comes from visitors.
With inflation and other economic challenges, it’s a difficult time to justify tax increases, but in Airway Heights, the transportation challenges are clear, and action needs to be taken sooner rather than later.
The city has one east-west arterial, U.S. 2, and there isn’t an easy fix to that dilemma. Anybody who has driven from Spokane to Fairchild Air Force Base, one of the casinos, or any other Airway Heights destination knows what that can look like in peak traffic. The plan is to build a multimodal corridor—one that could accommodate cars, bicycles, and pedestrians—along Sixth, Eighth, and 10th avenues, about a half-mile north of U.S. 2.
South of U.S. 2, also by about a half-mile, the city wants to make improvements to 21st Avenue as an east-west bypass for commercial traffic.
Those projects would ease congestion and offer more alternatives, but they come with hefty price tags—about $25 million for the Sixth-Eighth-10th avenues project and $35 million to $45 million for the 21st Avenue bypass, according to Tripp.
If approved, revenue projections show the transportation benefit district would generate at least $9.4 million over 10 years. While that’s a drop in the bucket for those large projects and the planned, smaller pedestrian safety projects, Airway Heights leaders estimate those dollars could be used as local match for grants totaling $21 million and coupled with other funding sources.
The projects are planned at a time when Airway Heights is among the fastest growing communities in the Spokane area. Population estimates from the Washington state Office of Financial Management show the city’s population surpassed 11,000 earlier this year and is up 2.6% compared with a year earlier. That growth outpaces Spokane and Spokane Valley and lags a few tenths of a percentage point behind the white-hot city of Liberty Lake.
Airway Heights voters saw the need to invest in their streets a decade ago. For the benefit of the region as a whole, we encourage them to do so again.