Spokane Journal of Business

The Journal’s View: City, WSDOT should come to table on U.S. 195 safety

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The city of Spokane and the Washington state Department of Transportation must work together to address mounting U.S. 195 safety hazards to avoid a potential impasse on residential growth in southwest Spokane.

A recent letter to the city from WSDOT calling for a moratorium on residential development along the U.S. 195 corridor in south Spokane until a “crisis in management safety within the corridor” is addressed should be the catalyst to bring the city and state, along with regional transportation agencies, to the same table. And soon.

Barring such a plan, one option WSDOT has is to restrict local access to the highway.

The city hasn’t been deaf to U.S. 195 safety complaints lately. As The Spokesman-Review has reported, a recent request for 98 homes for the Summit residential development near Eagle Ridge was limited to 20 homes due to concerns over highway safety and congestion. In the Summit decision, however, the city appears to put the onus on WSDOT to improve the highway to allow more growth in the area.

The rub there is that WSDOT contends the city should follow through with commitments it made in the early 1990s, when the state agency allowed the city to use highway right of way to extend infrastructure, says Joe Tortorelli, former Spokane commissioner on the Washington State Transportation Commission.

While the city and state and regional transportation agencies recently agreed to launch a new study into potential solutions, WSDOT wants – beyond a study – to see a plan that includes a commitment by the city to participate in safety improvements, says Tortorelli, who also is a board member of the Spokane Regional Transportation Council.

A study conducted 20 years ago outlined potential changes, but only one major improvement recommended in the study – the interchange at Cheney-Spokane Road – has come to fruition.

Tortorelli contends, however, that more interchanges, such as the earlier study also proposed at Hatch, Meadowlane, and Thorpe roads, will only exacerbate the bottleneck at the Interstate 90-U.S. 195 interchange. Reducing the bottleneck at I-90 would require a $450 million freeway interchange system that isn’t feasible for WSDOT in the foreseeable future.

Roger Flint, Spokane-based chief operating officer of engineering firm Parametrix and president of the Spokane Area Good Roads Association, believes the city and the state need to find ways to minimize traffic jumping on and off of U.S. 195 for short distances, potentially by extending arterials parallel to U.S. 195 to serve residential developments. That would still cost tens of millions of dollars.

While the city doesn’t have resources to build such an arterial system by itself, there may be ways to find funding sources by working together with the state and regional transportation agencies, Flint says.

The U.S. 195 safety solution is going to take collaboration on a plan, commitments to follow through with the plan, and joint efforts to seek funding.

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