Arrow-right Camera

Washington Voices

Road Medicine Construction Projects Will Help Cure Traffic Ills, But Things Get Worse Before They Get Better

The ruts are gone and the road construction crews are starting to disappear, too.

For now, that is.

Valley commuters should take full advantage of the upcoming seasonal sabbatical - be it filled with snow tires and snow plows - because there’s plenty more construction to come, starting next spring.

Spokane County will spend more than $17 million on transportation projects in the Valley in 1998. The Washington state Department of Transportation will begin work next year on Valley projects totaling $22 million.

If the planned Evergreen Road interchange at Interstate 90 gets final funding approval from the Legislature during its upcoming session, construction could begin by next summer.

All of these projects are aimed at improving traffic flow in the Valley, but drivers will still face more headaches before it’s all over.

For some, the cure is as bad as the ailment.

Ryan Heaton, a Valley resident who manages and is a partner in three area Senor Froggy restaurants, said this season’s construction was more than enough for him.

“I just don’t understand why they had to do it all at one time,” he said.

Heaton spends lots of time on the road, driving a daily route that takes him from his Valley home to a restaurant on North Division, to another on East Sprague to still another in Coeur d’Alene, then back home again.

This year, he’s had to contend with sewer and paving projects on 32nd Avenue and Bowdish Road. Then there was widening of Dishman-Mica Road. And the rut repair on Interstate 90. And the reworking of the Pines Road and Sprague Avenue freeway interchanges.

“Every route has been a headache so far,” he said.

The good news, for Heaton and other commuters, is that the road construction season is wrapping up.

Resurfacing of the 4-mile stretch of I-90 from Sprague to Pines was completed Wednesday. And by the end of next week work at Sprague and Fancher should be done, meaning smooth sailing for motorists.

Dishman Mica Road, which was closed for construction for four and one-half months this summer, is open again.

And streets being ripped up for sewer projects should be repaved and open to traffic within the next few weeks.

This year was the biggest year ever for Valley sewer work, with four large projects, said county sewer planner Mark Stiltz. The county let out $6.8 million in construction contracts for Valley sewers.

But the respite from road work is only temporary.

Next year, crews will widen Sullivan Road and add two left-turn lanes from Eighth Avenue to Sprague.

During the past year the Sullivan corridor has seen a boom in commercial growth between Sprague and the new Spokane Valley Mall north of the freeway.

And residential development south of Sprague has likewise boomed in recent years. In 1991, there were 14,000 cars traveling northbound through the intersection of Sullivan and Sprague every day. This September, there were 20,600 cars per day.

But for most Valley motorists it’s work on I-90 that affect them most.

Janet Mellinger, who lives in northwest Spokane and commutes to her job at Itron in the Valley, said the work on I-90 will be a problem for her next year.

“I’m dreading it,” she said. Now that the I-90 repaving job is complete, she’s happy. “Right now, thank God, nothing is happening.”

Mellinger said the increasingly heavy traffic on I-90 and along Sullivan Road has been as big a headache as the road work she has encountered this year.

She said it sometimes takes up to 15 minutes to get through the Sullivan Road interchange, which is less than a mile from Itron.

The new I-90 interchange planned at Evergreen Road should relieve the traffic congestion at both the Sullivan and Pines interchanges.

The new interchange could cost about $23 million, and will be paid jointly by the state, Spokane County, Hanson Industries and mall developer JP Realty.

The interchange won’t be open until 2001 at the earliest.

During the Legislature’s next session, state lawmakers will decide whether to approve the remaining $4 million needed for the project.

Sewer projects and other improvements in the Valley will continue next year, much to the dismay of drivers like Heaton. But he says the end result will make him generally happy.

It’s just that thinking about construction causes pain.

“I’m proud to say I didn’t swear once,” he said after describing his daily driving dilemmas.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color)


Click here to comment on this story »