Spokane Journal of Business

Transportation plan update gears up

SRTC board starts talking to groups, rolls out survey

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The Spokane Regional Transportation Council has begun work on an update to its long-range transportation plan for the region, known as Horizon 2040. 

First adopted by SRTC’s board in December 2013, Horizon 2040 is a metropolitan transportation plan for Spokane County. SRTC spokeswoman Staci Lehman says the plan is designed to serve as a long-term blueprint, aimed at meeting the mobility needs of the area through to the year 2040. 

She says the council is required by the Code of Federal Regulations to update the plan every four years, and the most recent update must be approved by the end of 2017.

The SRTC is the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), and the state designated Regional Transportation Planning Organization (RTPO) for Spokane County. Federal law requires urbanized areas with populations over 50,000 to have an MPO to ensure transportation expenditures are based on a continuing, cooperative, comprehensive planning process. 

Federal funds for transportation projects or programs are channeled through this planning process and awarded to local agencies and jurisdictions dealing with transportation. RTPOs serve similar transportation planning functions to MPOs, but were created by state legislation and receive state funding in support of planning efforts. 

Transportation projects in the current version of the Horizon 2040 plan include some currently under construction, such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Phase 2 (formerly called Riverside Drive Phase 2) project, and the North Spokane Corridor. It also includes recently completed projects such as the Interstate 90-Freya Street westbound off-ramp project, which was completed just over a month ago.

Lehman says updates to Horizon 2040 usually include project ideas that have been submitted by planners and engineers within each local jurisdiction. 

“Each jurisdiction has a list of possible future transportation projects they’d like us to consider,” she says. “When an update comes around, they send us those they feel are most important to begin working on. Some are already included in the plan, but can be resubmitted and re-evaluated.”

Lehman says potential projects are reviewed to determine eligibility for inclusion in the plan. 

“The plan has to be fiscally constrained, meaning we must demonstrate that there is sufficient potential funding to cover all projects included in Horizon 2040,” she says. 

She says the board is working to make the determination of how much money will be available between now and 2040 based on current and projected funding sources. 

 “As a result, we haven’t firmed up exactly how the process will work to determine what makes it in. That is coming soon,” she says. 

Lehman says projects won’t automatically be granted funding for being included in the plan. However, she says inclusion in Horizon 2040 does signal that these projects are considered a priority, and being considered a local priority is often criteria for state and federal grants when they become available. 

In advance of choosing those projects to be included in the plan, the council has been hosting discussions throughout the community and has created a survey to help gather input. 

Because the plan is based on projected population, housing, and job growth, as well as considering both public and private transportation needs, Lehman says the council has been speaking with and surveying a variety of groups. 

“We’ve been talking to people in the business community, health care, housing and social services, educators, major employers, elected officials, neighborhood groups, users of public transportation, and many others,” she says. 

She says early input from those groups on transportation trends and issues will go a long way toward shaping the plan. 

So far, Lehman says, some of the issues being discussed include how different populations are affected by access to transportation—or how they will be affected in the future. 

“We have gotten input from health care workers who want patients to be able to access their nearest doctor’s office and developers who want to make sure many of these new multifamily apartment complexes have convenient transportation options as well,” she says. 

She says one big group everyone seems to be talking about is Millennials. 

“There’s been a lot of discussion about the Millennial generation having an impact on future transportation trends,” she says. 

The online survey asks these community groups what they think is going well with transportation in the region, what concerns them about transportation, and one piece of advice they would offer the SRTC in planning the update. 

“We wanted it to be a simple survey with open-ended questions, so as not to preclude any answers,” Lehman says. “We haven’t considered the responses yet, but once the survey closes at the end of this month, we will add the results to our report for the Dec. 8 board meeting.”

While there isn’t yet a public version of the survey, Lehman says the council does plan to create one in 2017. 

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken covers health care at the Journal of Business. A Minnesota native and cat lover, she enjoys beachside vacations and writing poetry. LeAnn has worked for the Journal since 2015.

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