A new plan to build an east-west commuter couplet through the Spokane Valley may help the county hang onto millions of dollars in federal money.
Spokane County commissioners gave engineers the green light at a meeting Thursday to study an alternative to the long-debated South Valley Arterial.
The move should secure nearly $10 million in federal money earmarked for the commuter road, said Dennis Scott, county director of public works.
The county had been in danger of losing the money after critics of a previous arterial proposal filed a lawsuit to halt the project.
The couplet proposal, which could cost about $7 million, would route traffic along two parallel one-way roads two blocks apart. Construction could begin as soon as 1999.
Westbound traffic would remain on Sprague Avenue between Thierman and University roads. Eastbound traffic would follow a widened First Avenue between Thierman and Park, before sweeping gradually south and continuing east along Second Avenue, which also would have to be widened.
The proposed couplet would keep drivers near the Sprague business corridor and away from the Dishman Hills Natural Area.
Some business owners complained that the South Valley Arterial would funnel traffic away from the Sprague Avenue commercial strip. Environmentalists worried that South Valley Arterial traffic would have a negative effect on the Dishman Hills.
If the couplet is built, Sprague would be trimmed to four or five lanes and the new roadway along First and Second would be four lanes wide.
Currently, Sprague is seven lanes wide, including a middle turn lane. Engineers estimate that 40,000 cars travel the road daily.
A bike lane along one of the sections also is possible.
Stoplights also would be added along Second where it intersects with Mullan, Farr and University.
Acquiring land to build the eastbound section of the route is a hurdle the county will have to clear.
First Avenue between Theirman and Park would have to be widened by about about 14 feet, meaning the county would have to purchase land from several homeowners. Portions of land along Second Avenue and about one-third of the Rose Haven Mobile home park also would have to be acquired.
But engineers remained optimistic about the proposal, likening it to similar traffic corridors on the Valley’s Mullan and Argonne roads and the North Side’s Ruby and Division streets.
Both helped to reduce traffic congestion along those stretches without forcing motorists to stray from existing business districts, they said.
Decreased traffic on Interstate 90 might be a bonus, Commissioner Phil Harris said, but he noted that was not the intent of the project.
“It’s not being built to take the pressure off I-90,” Harris said. “That’s a state problem. It’s being built to help the people in the Valley commute.”
The stretch between Thierman and University is considered the first phase of a project engineers and commissioners hope will eventually stretch to Liberty Lake.
On the west end, the couplet would connect to the Sprague freeway interchange the state has planned to rebuild for years. The interchange project is currently without funding, but state transportation officials are hopeful state money will be set aside next year.
Westbound traffic would enter I-90 via a new curving on-ramp planned west of Sprague. Traffic leaving the freeway would exit at the same place, but onto a more gradual off-ramp.
“The neat part about what we’re talking about this time is it’s not a limited access facility,” Scott said.
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