Unless something drastic happens soon, that long-debated commuter road called the South Valley Arterial will be dead. County Public Works Director Dennis Scott is quietly working to make something drastic happen.
It turns out county commissioners Steve Hasson and Phil Harris, who put the project on hold last July “to slow things down,” intended all along to simply let the arterial proposal die.
“I thought we gave that thing a sleeping pill last summer,” Hasson said last week. “It is dead. We’ve done everything but give it a proper eulogy.”
“I guess what he’s saying is true,” said Harris, who is a proponent of a beltway that would take traffic completely around the urbanized area. “We did put it to sleep. It’s probably yawned a few times, but I’d have to say it’s still sleeping.”
That puts into jeopardy nearly $10 million in federal money earmarked for the arterial.
But Scott hasn’t given up hope - not yet, anyway - of waking the South Valley Arterial project.
For the past several weeks, Scott has been lobbying private citizens who oppose the project, trying to drum up support.
He’s met and will meet again with members of the Spokane Valley Business Association, a group of business owners who organized two years ago to fight the arterial.
Scott, who said he thinks the road has merit, is trying to find a way to allay the group’s fears about the arterial.
County engineers estimate that the commuter road could draw as many as 40,000 cars off Interstate 90 and several thousand off Sprague Avenue each day.
That’s exactly the kind of talk that scares members of the Spokane Valley Business Association. Many of them are afraid reduced traffic on Sprague would hurt businesses.
“I believe there is some kind of compromise ground,” Scott said.
He’ll have to hurry to find it.
Federal officials will be reviewing the status of the arterial project this summer.
If it appears to be stalled, the money set aside by the federal Transportation Improvement Board could be lost forever and with it any chance the road would be built.
“If we’re not ready to send some kind of signal that we’re ready to move ahead by the end of June, we’re probably going to lose that window of opportunity,” Scott said.
Former county engineer Ron Hormann, who spent many years working on the arterial project, agreed.
“If there’s too much delay, they’ll say, ‘Well, it doesn’t look like this project is going anywhere,’ and they’ll cancel the funding,” said Hormann, a South Valley Arterial supporter who has announced he’ll run against Hasson this year. “That would be a shame.”
The $18 million arterial would run between Thierman and University roads on an old railroad right-of-way that lies parallel to and south of Fourth Avenue.
It could eventually extend all the way to Liberty Lake.
County engineers think the arterial would alleviate traffic on Interstate 90 and Sprague Avenue by giving the tens of thousands of people who live in the southern Valley an alternate east-west route.
The arterial had wide support among residents two years ago.
A March 1994 poll paid for by The Spokesman-Review found that 57 percent of the people surveyed favored the road. Thirty-one percent opposed the road. Twelve percent were undecided.
But the opposition spoke with a louder voice.
The Spokane Valley Business Association, several of whose members supported the campaigns of commissioners Harris and Hasson, raised a stink, challenging the necessity of the road and the validity of the project’s environmental impact statement.
The group formed a coalition with environmentalists who feared the road would hurt the Dishman Hills Natural Area and filed suit against the county to stop construction.
They put their lawsuit on hold after last July’s vote by commissioners.
Now Scott is out there looking for solutions.
He won’t say what he’s offering, only that he’s trying to open a dialogue to see if he can change some minds before it’s too late.
“If we can’t convince people that it’s a project worth doing, it will go away,” Scott said.
He probably won’t be able to convince Dick Behm, a charter member of the Spokane Valley Business Association and strong supporter of Harris.
The project is a bad idea, Behm said, and not just because it would draw business away from the creamery he operates on Sprague.
Behm said he thinks the Valley needs more north-south routes - like extending University Road north to Trent Avenue - not another eastwest corridor.
County engineers don’t dispute the need for more north-south routes, but say another east-west route is also needed to serve the expanding neighborhoods south of 32nd Avenue.
I-90 and Sprague are clogged to unacceptable levels during rush hours now, engineers say.
Behm said he thinks Scott is pushing the project because county road designers have so much time and money invested in the proposed arterial.
“Some engineer has a burr under his bonnet,” Behm said.
Hasson said he would not vote to revive the project.
The real solution to moving east-west traffic through the Valley faster is widening I-90 to three lanes in each direction between the Sprague interchange and the state line, he said.
“This South Valley Arterial is nothing but a stop-gap,” Hasson said. “The real problem is I-90.”
Scott doesn’t think the South Valley Arterial is a waste of time and money.
“I think there are some real legitimate reasons for doing something there,” he said of the arterial. “But we’ll have to see. Maybe in a couple weeks I’ll have a really big story for you.”
That, or a eulogy.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Map: South Valley Arterial
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