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Healthy Arteries Keep City Alive

Sun., Sept. 1, 1996

It’s no fun when the refrigerator burns out or the furnace dies. As consumer products go, they’re as dull as they are expensive. Yet a household can’t function without them. They’re a necessity.

Same goes for city streets.

Here in Spokane, voters on Sept. 17 will consider a bond issue that would raise $37 million to rebuild 51 miles of the city’s most important streets - the rutted, cratered, teeth-rattling arterials that carry us on our daily rounds. In the ‘80s, a similar, smaller proposal funded rebuilding of many residential streets; now, it’s the arterials’ turn.

There’s no denying these main arteries are in terrible condition.

There’s no denying the bond issue is expensive.

Yet if we don’t invest now in this foundational support for our economy and safety, we’ll suffer now and spend more later. We’ll spend more on shock absorbers, front-end alignments, tires and personal injuries. And we’ll spend more on the road rebuilding, which is an inescapable obligation. The longer street work is postponed, the deeper the damage goes into the roadbed, and the more expensive reconstruction becomes. That’s a result of Spokane winters, when water seeps into cracks, freezes, expands, and crumbles pavement like a jackhammer.

The bonds would be repaid over seven years by a property tax assessed at approximately 89 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. For a $100,000 home that translates to $89 a year or $7.43 per month. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Neither is the cost of a front-end alignment, as more of us are discovering.

Critics complain the city hasn’t maintained its streets adequately. That’s true, and there’s an important explanation. The bond issue provides a chance to do more than gripe; it asks us to step forward, take responsibility and fix up our community.

The reason behind the city’s maintenance shortfall is simple: The state and federal funding that helped repair city roads in the past has shrunk. City officials have tried to make up the difference with local money. But the public has said no to leading options for more road funds - license fees and gas taxes. The Supreme Court killed another possibility, involving utility districts. That leaves a choice, between property taxes and awful arterials.

Think about what arterials carry: police cars, fire trucks, delivery trucks, commuters, shoppers, buses, snowplows, and kids on bikes.

The city does need to spend more on annual maintenance. That’s an issue for the Legislature, and for the City Council’s annual division of revenue among police, fire, parks, streets and libraries.

But, the effort to rebuild arterials that are past the point of annual patching is separate. Patching’s a futile, costly waste when the underlying roads need more than Band-Aids. We respectfully urge voters to say yes for Spokane’s arterials. We all need them.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = ENDORSEMENT, EDITORIAL, COLUMN - Our view CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board

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