Spokane Journal of Business

Arterial alternative proposed in Airway Heights

Traffic relief could spur even more growth, say West Plains proponents

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While U.S. 2 has long served as the main arterial in and out of Airway Heights, city planners say they’re working on a $20 million plan to alleviate congestion on that busy roadway.

With commercial development north and south of the east-west highway at an all-time high, planning officials have launched what they’ve called the 6th/10th/12th Avenue Project, says Todd Coleman, executive director of the West Plains Airport Area Public Development Authority.

Initiated by the PDA, which does business as S3R3 Solutions, the joint project between the cities of Airway Heights and Spokane involves linking parts of the three avenues creating a vehicle corridor to ease highway traffic.

Sixth, 10th, and 12th avenues each run parallel north of U.S. 2. The proposed alignment would start at 6th Avenue at Craig Road and extend east to just past Russell Street. From there, the alignment would jog southward to 10th Avenue and continue east. The alignment would continue east to 12th Avenue, east of the Airway Heights city limits to Campus Drive before linking up with U.S. 2.

The city of Spokane and other West Plains entities are early in the process of submitting funding requests to the state. Officials think the project could be completed as early as 2022, he says.

City planners want to create other thoroughfare alternatives to U.S. 2, Coleman says.

Toby Broemmeling, executive director of the West Plains Chamber of Commerce, says at least 75% of Airway Heights residents don’t work within city limits, while approximately the same percentage of people who do work in Airway Heights don’t live there.

In Airway Heights, grocery shoppers often are competing for road space on the highway with commuters, Coleman says.

As the executive director of S3R3 for three years, Coleman has played an active role in the West Plains effort to recruit businesses from elsewhere. One of the leading reasons businesses cite in their desire to relocate is to have their workforce contend with less traffic, he says.

That sentiment in recent years has helped forge the West Plains’ future growth strategy. Officials there believe targeted growth will result in controlled growth, avoiding unbridled sprawl. It’s why the PDA board has centered its efforts specifically recruiting aerospace and manufacturing companies, Coleman says.

The board has set a “lofty” goal of attracting jobs that are 20% above the region’s median salary, he says.

“To do that, we’ve got to have the water, sewer, storm, and roadway infrastructure to support that,” he says. “We want a bustling job center, but we also want to be an area that people want to be.”

Which in part translates to not having to fight traffic on U.S. 2, he says.

According to Washington state’s Office of Financial Management, Airway Heights had a population of 6,114 residents when the 2010 census was taken.

A decade later, OFM estimates the city has experienced a nearly 64% increase in population to just above 10,000 residents, according to that office’s April 1 report. It represents the largest rate of growth experienced by any city within Spokane County. 

Extending beyond U.S. 2, the West Plains PDA has roughly $600 million in projects that are currently under construction or have been proposed, he says.

“And that number excludes a lot of projects on Highway 2,” Coleman says. “I bet we’re getting close to about three-quarters of a billion dollars in private investment.”

Though completed, the PDA still includes Amazon.com Inc.’s new 2.6 million-square-foot, $181 million fulfillment center in the contribution of investment dollars in the area.

 “I was talking to Barry Baker (owner of Baker Construction & Development Inc.) the other day, and I asked him, ‘How many different yellow signs are we going to see on Highway 2 here?’” Broemmeling says, referring to the company’s trademark signs on display at its various worksites.

Last year, longtime Spokane real estate developer Harlan Douglass acquired 125 acres from Jolt Development LLC. to develop a 1.4-million-square-foot industrial complex at 5400 S. Thomas Mallen Road just east of Amazon’s fulfillment center, he says.

Douglass purchased the land for close to $12 million and recently started construction on Douglass Commerce Park, Coleman says.

“He’s actually breaking ground right now on the first two buildings,” Coleman says. “Those first two buildings are going to be about 138,000 square feet between the two of them. This is fantastic for us. To have future product available to market is huge.”

Additionally, a $6.5 million North 40 Outfitters farm and ranch store is currently being built at 9656 W. U.S. 2, at the northeast corner of the highway and Deer Heights Road, just northeast of Village Center Cinemas.

Selkirk Pharma Inc. has a planned manufacturing plant scheduled for construction at 9110 W. Granite that will host 147,600 square feet of office, manufacturing, and warehouse space at an estimated cost of $30 million.

And next year, Kenworth Sales Co. is expected to break ground on a $15 million, 60,000-square-foot showroom and maintenance facility at 9010 W. Geiger Blvd., where it plans to move from smaller quarters in Spokane Valley.

On the residential side, south of I-90, an expansive multifamily and single-family development called Aspen Meadows is slated for construction beginning next year, Broemmeling says.

“Last year, there was about $500 million of investment coming – and none of that had even broken ground yet,” Broemmeling says. “Now, we’re seeing all of that coming to fruition, and COVID-19 didn’t even stop it.”

Kevin Blocker
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