About 70 citizens - both confused and furious - attended the Chief Garry Park Neighborhood council meeting last week to learn more about the future of transportation in Spokane.
Representatives from the city, county and Department of Transportation took turns presenting the pros and cons of the proposed North Spokane corridor and urban connectors.
Councilman Rob Higgins teamed up with DOT project engineer Keith Martin to share a rosy vision of an expanded Highway 395. Higgins said funding - from the state and federal levels - is in place for the corridor.
“This project is a reality,” he said. “The people just have to stand up and say they want it.”
But before anyone pledges their support, they want answers. Residents of the neighborhoods that would be most affected asked what would happen to their homes and businesses. The proposed route would run a 60-mph limited access highway through Hillyard, roughly parallel to Greene and Market streets.
Martin responded that “nothing is cast in stone.” The public will continue to be included in the developmental process.
The state is required to pay affected home and business owners fair market value for their property plus moving expenses, he said.
But some people said monetary compensation wouldn’t be enough, because relocating them would put them out of business for good.
Community activist Bart Haggin agreed, arguing that a North Spokane corridor would do more harm that good.
“(Highways) pull and suck people out of the city,” he said. “If you build the roads, more subdivisions and cars will come.”
He echoed many residents’ fear that a north-south highway would kill downtown Spokane, making people move further away from the city center.
Haggin suggested affordable, frequent public transportation as an alternative.
“We need small, planned communities where people can live in harmony and get to know each other,” he said.
People held similar concerns about the proposed urban connectors - the series of roads to be built or improved around the city that would work in conjunction with the North Spokane Corridor.
Assistant County Engineer Ross Kelley showed a video explaining some details about the proposed locations of the connectors. But, like the corridor, the connectors are only in the planning phase.
Charlie Dotson, planning director for the City of Spokane, spoke against the connectors, saying the roads would lead to urban sprawl.
“Sprawl is devastating to the city of Spokane,” he said. “It lowers the quality of life in significant and dramatic ways.”
He said that as affluent people move to the suburbs, the inner city would become a strictly low-income area rife with crime. The only way to stop such a trend, Dotson said, is for citizens to let the county commissioners know their feelings “by the hundreds and thousands.”
Kelley, however, said that just because a road is built doesn’t necessarily mean homes will follow.
Martin added that the proposed roads are a “response to the demand of growth,” and that they would help move goods and freight through the region and serve the downtown core.