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Federal bill to fund city highways

The North Spokane freeway, Interstate 90 and Riverside Avenue were all winners Friday in the national competition for federal highway money.

Congress funded those and several other Eastern Washington projects with the Transportation Equity Act for 2004-2009. The bill, which is supported by President Bush, passed Friday in both the House and Senate.

“When you think of growing the economy and what it’s going to take to grow jobs in Eastern Washington, transportation infrastructure is vital,” said U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris.

The Eastern Washington Republican said she worked with Washington Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray to make sure local projects were funded.

Spokane County will get about $20.3 million worth of federal transportation money.

Other projects on the list include the “Bridging the Valley” plan to improve safety at railway crossings and expanding the Spokane Advanced Traffic Management System.

All told, Congress allocated $286.4 billion for highway projects, including $3.3 billion for Washington state.

The biggest chunk of Washington’s allocation is $220 million to replace Seattle’s dilapidated Alaska Way Viaduct. But if Washington voters in November overturn the 9.5-cent gas tax passed by the Legislature this year, the state could lose the federal viaduct money because it would lack the required local matching funds.

In Spokane, the $6.64 million in North Spokane Corridor funding is especially helpful because it can be used for any purpose, said Jerry Lenzi, Eastern Region director for the Washington State Department of Transportation.

And getting the federal recognition now could help the project garner more money in the future, he said.

McMorris said finding money for the corridor was a priority for her.

“Without a doubt, it’s a top project,” she said.

The money could be used for design or to buy right-of-way. It’s not in jeopardy under the gas tax initiative because Washington has already invested enough to meet federal demands.

“We will use any money for the North Spokane freeway that we can get,” Lenzi said.

About $1.6 billion is still needed to complete the highway between I-90 and Highway 395.

A project to add a third lane to I-90 in each direction between Sullivan and the Idaho state line was granted almost $10 million.

But don’t expect construction to start anytime soon.

A proposal that $70 million for the I-90 widening project be included in Washington’s recently increased gas tax allocations failed, so the federal funds are the only money available for the project for the foreseeable future.

“What this will allow us to do is develop some detailed designs, so we’ll know exactly how much right-of-way we need to purchase,” said Lenzi.