Voices


Homeowners face heartbreaking news that freeway plans target homes

People sink roots in this neighborhood on the hill.

They plant roses and lilies, bury family pets with names like Daisy and Lemew. They raise children, plan their retirement.

“We were going to stay here forever,” Jeanne Rees said. “They were going to take me out of here toes up.”

Rees may choose to walk out on her own.

Just last month, Rees learned the proposed north-south freeway may slice through the neighborhood she moved to 27 years ago.

Rees lives in the Garden City area, which is tucked behind Northwood Middle School, between U.S. Highways 395 and 2. The neighborhood is a cozy mix of rural and suburban living, a place where moose mingle with swing sets and yard art.

News of the proposed freeway route dazed Rees and her neighbors. They long believed that if the high-speed roadway were to be built - with the emphasis on if - it would miss their homes by nearly a mile to the south.

For nearly half a century, there’s been talk of building a freeway from Interstate 90 to Highway 395. Routes were drawn on maps. Studies were done. But the money didn’t come.

Now, state Legislators, the Transportation Commission and the governor have put dollars for Spokane’s longed-for freeway in their proposed spending plans.

With the freeway’s future more certain, state Department of Transportation engineers are polishing rough drafts of possible freeway routes.

The commonly accepted route followed railroad right-of-way alongside the Market-Greene Street corridor. The proposed roadway then angled west at Hawthorne and Market, going south of Northwood Middle School to link with Highway 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.

Dave and Jan Kirkman have lived along Garden Avenue nearly 20 years, in a five-bedroom rancher surrounded by flower gardens.

“We couldn’t live here with a freeway,” Jan Kirkman said. “It would just break our hearts.”

Break their hearts. Upset their stomachs. Ruin their sleep.

Since learning of the proposal, the emotional toll has physically drained them, residents said.

“It’s been a rollercoaster,” Kirkman said. “But we’ve had more downs than ups.”

Transportation officials say the alternate route could prove less costly, both emotionally and financially, because fewer homes and businesses lie in the bulldozer’s path.

Such rationale does little to placate the Kirkmans and the Reeses, as the change runs the freeway right between their homes.

“It would be right there,” said Dave Kirkman, pointing to the fence that lines his 1.3-acre lot.

The prospect of a freeway splitting their neighborhood has turned this pastoral landscape into a battleground. Residents formed a neighborhood coalition with the sole purpose of fending off the freeway’s advances. They’ve hired an attorney, handed out flyers and gathered more than 500 signatures on a petition.

“People have been putting out a tremendous effort,” Jan Kirkman said. “If we end up making this sacrifice, we want people to know it has not been an easy thing to do.”

Dave Kirkman said that while he never liked the project, many coalition members want the freeway. But they’re horrified to suddenly learn they could be its neighbors.

“It never even dawned on us,” says Cindy Paul, who would lose her Garden City home to the alternate route. “We knew about the proposal just south of us. We never thought they’d do something different.”

Project manager Keith Martin said last month that while he’s sympathetic to residents’ concerns, the DOT has to choose a route based on what’s best for the greatest number of people.

“As we’re developing alignments on paper, the world continues to develop and change,” he said, noting the project’s environmental work began nearly eight years ago. “Businesses and homes sprung up in the corridor.”

Engineers use 29 criteria to establish the freeway’s route, including home and business displacements, air, noise and community character, Martin said. The number of homes and businesses displaced carries the most weight.

Under the original alignment between Hawthorne and Highway 395, 50 homes would need to be bought. The new proposal cuts that number in half.

DOT officials clearly are leaning toward the alternate route. Last month, they held two meetings to make sure they weren’t overlooking reasons the changes would be less desirable.

They plan to make a final choice about the freeway’s route this summer and hold hearings on design and access issues later this year.

If the project survives the state budgeting process, construction could start as early as 2001, with property acquisition beginning next year.

The DOT plans to begin building the freeway at the north end. That means Garden City residents - who were among the last to know they could be the freeway’s neighbors - could be the first to see it built.

Until they see the bulldozers, residents said they aren’t giving up the fight to keep the freeway out.

“I just keep thinking if I can appeal to these guys, they’ll change their minds,” Jan Kirkman said.



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