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North-south freeway will be built from Hillyard down

The likelihood of state money is making the north-south freeway seem more like reality than a pipe dream.

State officials have now decided freeway construction should begin at the less-developed north end of the route, instead of the heavily congested south end.

“We needed to get the biggest bang for the biggest buck,” said Jerry Lenzi of the state Department of Transportation. “We chose the north.”

The state spent months studying the issue before deciding that construction would be faster and cheaper if work started at the freeway’s north end, Lenzi said.

But a Spokane man who considers himself the freeway’s most passionate citizen advocate thinks the DOT’s plan makes no sense.

“Why are they starting up there when the congestion’s down here?” said Marc Ramsey, 54, who has followed the freeway’s stop-and-go status most of his life.

Ramsey, who works for a construction firm, recently has been on the speaking circuit, lecturing groups such as the South Side Republicans on what he considers the Department of Transportation’s illconceived plan.

“DOT plans to start in no-man’s land,” Ramsey said.

That’s just the point, Lenzi said. “We don’t want someone putting a Fred Meyer up there.”

As proposed, the eight-lane freeway would run 10 miles, from Interstate 90 on the south to U.S. Highway 395 near the Wandermere Golf Course.

The $892 million project ($2.1 billion in 2020 dollars) is divided into two sections: an eight-mile stretch north of the Spokane River and a two-mile stretch south.

The north stretch is largely vacant, meaning DOT can buy the land before development makes it more costly, Lenzi said.

“Thirty percent of the cost is in the north eight miles,” Lenzi said. “Seventy percent is in the southerly two miles.”

Buying right-of-way isn’t just about costs, Lenzi said. It’s also about logistics.

More than 400 households and 121 businesses between the river and I-90 would be affected by the freeway, he said. For some, that means moving. For others, it means living next door to the construction of a high-speed freeway, and later, the roar of its traffic.

By comparison, 111 households and 44 businesses would be affected between the river and Highway 395.

Starting up north would give residents and businesses destined to move more time to find new homes, Lenzi said.

Al Gilson, DOT spokesman, said the department did the same thing when it built I-90, delaying construction of the downtown viaduct until the rest of the highway was done.

Ramsey is unconvinced by the state’s argument.

The Department of Transportation should start buying land in the southerly section as soon as it can so prices don’t increase. “It’s cheaper today than waiting 15 years. It’s a buyer’s market,” Ramsey said.

Building the highway north to south means dumping hundreds of cars into the already congested Trent to I-90 area, he said. “In fact, it’s going to increase the congestion.”

Lenzi said the state plans to make small improvements to the south stretch to ease traffic flow until the freeway can be built. Those include widening streets and changing traffic signal timing. “It would be much, much better than it is right now,” he said.

If the state comes through with dollars for the project, work could start as soon as 2001. Building the highway will take 10 to 20 years, Lenzi said.



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