A booster of Spokane’s elusive north-south freeway is accusing Spokane County commissioners of not being team players.
In a March 4 letter, the president of the Inland Automobile Association contends the commissioners are “irresponsible” for proposing a beltway around Spokane as one way of easing traffic.
Sharing those plans during a legislative hearing “put a dagger” in plans to start work on the freeway this year, Stan Miller wrote.
A transportation spending plan passed by the House of Representatives last week would provide $250,000 to the county to study the proposed beltway but would appropriate nothing for the freeway.
The plan has not yet passed the Senate.
Local officials had hoped for $18 million to get started on the freeway, which has been proposed in various forms for the last half-century. Now they’re left with about $4 million from other state funds that can be used for the freeway project over the next five years.
“This (is) tantamount to long-range planning on a napkin,” Miller wrote concerning maps of the proposed beltway.
Elsewhere in the letter, Miller calls the beltway proposal “scary,” “ridiculous” and “disturbing.”
Commissioners and others say Miller is overreacting.
“The letter is just full of misinformation,” said Commissioner Kate McCaslin, who calls the beltway “a complement or a supplement” to the freeway.
Beltways typically are limited-access freeways that carry cars around cities. Instead, Spokane County proposes a few new roads linked with existing arterials that would be widened and improved. Together, those roads would nearly circle Spokane.
The proposed north-south freeway would lead from Interstate 90 to state Highway 2, north of the Division Street “Y.” The state in 1996 estimated it would take 20 years and $2.1 billion to complete the project.
No one proposes building the entire freeway at once. Instead, local officials and state transportation commissioners asked the Legislature for $18 million to buy land and begin drawing blueprints for the northern-most portion of the freeway, from Wandermere Mall to Francis Avenue.
McCaslin and county staff last month told the House Transportation Committee that the first phase of the freeway would link well with the most logical first phase of the beltway: following the existing Bigelow Gulch, Forker and Sullivan roads from Francis to I-90 in the Valley.
“What they said was, if we could take one part of their beltway plan and combine that with the first part of the freeway, it might make perfect sense,” said Rep. Alex Wood, D-Spokane. “They were looking for compromise.”
The Spokane Regional Transportation Council plans a study this summer to determine how many cars might use the beltway, and its effect on other roads. The state money is for another study, of the number of lanes needed and other issues.
Until those studies are completed, it’s tough to say how much the beltway would cost. County engineers give a rough estimate of $182 million.
This isn’t the first time the county has raised hackles by discussing a beltway.
In 1996, after the state released its estimated cost of the freeway, county engineer Bill Johns said he doubted it could be built.
Johns wrote a resolution urging lawmakers to give up on the freeway and turn their attention to alternatives “such as beltways and arterial improvements, which will be more efficient, affordable and less harmful to the region’s environment.”
Commissioners rejected the resolution after intense lobbying from city officials and business leaders.