Local news

North-south freeway could get $120 million start

Transportation panel recommends share of R-49 funds go to Spokane

The state Transportation commission believes the Legislature should spend $120 million on Spokane’s proposed north-south freeway.

In a meeting Thursday, the seven-member commission settled on its priorities for spending some $2.3 billion in transportation money resulting from Referendum 49, which voters approved earlier this month.

The recommendation now goes to Gov. Gary Locke, who can suggest other priorities for spending the money, then to the Legislature, which has the final say.

“I’m optimistic we can get that ($120 million) through,” said Chris Marr of Spokane, a commission member. “I think this is a good approach.”

The long-discussed north-south freeway is proposed to link Interstate 90 with U.S. Highway 395 north of the Division Street Y. The proposed route goes through the city’s East Central, Chief Garry and Hillyard neighborhoods, just east of Market Street.

It has a total estimated price tag of $2 billion over a 20-year construction schedule.

If the Legislature agrees with the commission’s recommendation, the state will still have to sell bonds to raise the money. That means money for the project probably won’t be available until the summer, said Randy Hain of the state Transportation Department.

The commission wants to spend the $120 million for preliminary engineering and buying right-of-way. If the state Transportation Department has any of that sum left over, it could use it to begin construction.

The money would come out of $400 million the commission wants to spend over the next six years for five major traffic corridors in Washington state. The other four are in Western Washington.

The commission is also recommending the state spend $500 million for new high-occupancy vehicle lanes in congested areas of Seattle and Tacoma. Another $407 million would be spent to improve and maintain exiting high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

The commission also wants to send $170 million directly to local governments to spend on their roads.

Other recommendations include $200 million to improve freight traffic on the state’s roads and highways and another $8 million to improve freight traffic on the rails, $241 million for passenger rail improvements and $187 million for the ferry system, with about $157 million of that being spent for six passenger-only ferries.

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