For years, Spokane’s north-south freeway was like a horse on a child’s Christmas list - something longed for though never truly expected.
But sometime in the next few years, that horse may come to life and run through hundreds of people’s back yards, as state lawmakers consider moving the freeway beyond the planning stages.
“We’d always kind of laughed about it. We didn’t think it could happen,” said Patti Moore, who lives on Euclid Avenue just one vacant block from the proposed freeway route. “Now, we’re kind of concerned.”
But while Moore and her family long have known the high-speed roadway could run through their Minnehaha neighborhood one day, other Spokane residents are finding the news more of a shock.
The state Department of Transportation recently unveiled a handful of possible route changes that could split a Mead neighborhood northwest of U.S. Highway 2.
Transportation officials are holding two open houses later this month to familiarize people with the long-standing route and proposed alternatives.
The changes must go through several public hearings before they could be adopted.
Officials say the alternative routes could prove less costly, both emotionally and financially, because fewer homes and businesses would lie in the bulldozers’ path.
Those living near the possible route changes find little comfort in the state’s rationale.
“It’s the suddenness. It ignores all we’ve expected for years,” said Jan Kirkman, who always thought the freeway would be built about a mile south of her home on Garden Avenue.
The proposed realignment could move that freeway to within a few hundred feet of her front door.
“We couldn’t live here with a freeway,” she said. “It would just break our hearts.”
For nearly a half century, there’s been talk of building a north-south freeway from Interstate 90 to U.S. Highway 395. Routes were drawn on maps. Studies were done. Routes were refined. The money didn’t come.
Now, the state may well be sending dollars Spokane’s way. The state Senate has authorized selling $90 million in bonds for three state road projects, including the north-south freeway.
Also, the Transportation Commission is asking that a total of $120 million be set aside for the Spokane project.
At the same time, engineers are looking at changes to the route. A few years ago, a freeway that followed railroad right of way alongside the Market-Greene Street corridor was the commonly accepted path.
The proposed roadway angled west at Hawthorne and Market, going south of Northwood Middle School to link with U.S. 395 near Wandermere Golf Course.
New maps propose changes to the freeway’s alignment near the north end, moving the freeway north of Northwood to run parallel to Garden Avenue.
Other suggested changes include moving the freeway slightly west between Francis and Hawthorne to avoid several businesses.
The freeway’s long history made route changes inevitable, said Keith Martin, the state’s project engineer.
“As we’re developing alignments on paper, the world continues to change and develop,” he said. “Businesses and homes sprung up in the corridor.
“Our goal is to lessen the overall adverse environmental impacts … Everything is subject to change.”
Engineers use 29 criteria to establish the freeway’s route, including home and business displacements, air, noise and community character, Martin said.
“We feel the thing that carries the most weight is the … disruption and displacement of businesses and homes,” Martin said.
For instance, proposed route changes between Francis and Hawthorne came about so four businesses that employ more than 300 people could stay put, Martin said.
Unfortunately for families like the Kirkmans, that same calculation could move the freeway to their front yards.
Under the original alignment between Hawthorne and 395, 50 homes would need to be bought. The new proposal would cut that number to 25, Martin said.
“What we’re looking at is strictly an objective comparison,” he said.
Numbers like that do little to ease the Kirkmans’ concerns or those of their neighbors, Larry and Jeanne Rees. For them, the loss of peace and solitude in their neighborhood is priceless.
“I’ve been falling asleep to the sounds of crickets and tree frogs,” said Jeanne Rees, who has lived in her home nearly 30 years. “Now I’ll fall asleep to the sound of jack brakes and (smell of) diesel fumes.”
Unlike the Kirkmans, Patti Moore’s family has lived next to the noise of busy streets and a railroad track for nearly four generations. But that doesn’t make the freeway’s reality any more tolerable.
Moore’s Italian grandparents owned a store behind the house she’s called home since her birth. Her daughter lives across the street, her brother down the block.
While they all favor the freeway’s construction, they wish they were in its path, not its likely neighbor.
“If I had a choice of living on the outskirts or them taking me out, I’d rather they take me out,” said Lynn Jones, Moore’s daughter.
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