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Roads to frustration

"It's hot work but we have to keep them moving," said flagger John Richardson, left, at the corner of Thor Street and Second Avenue, on Tuesday afternoon. (Christopher Anderson/ / The Spokesman-Review)

Sometimes the cure feels worse than the disease.

Spokane-area drivers are suffering through the side effects of efforts to heal area streets.

Ragged pavement, winding detours and stalled traffic are the results of drastic street surgery that many say is long overdue. Some of the work was made possible by voters who approved last year the city of Spokane’s $117 million street bond issue.

From Ash Street in north Spokane to South Regal Street on Spokane’s far South Hill to Interstate 90 in Spokane Valley and many spots in between, more than $80 million worth of road rehabilitation will take place this construction season.

Few will be spared from the resulting traffic impacts.

Despite the headaches, many drivers say they’re willing to endure the pain now in return for a freshened-up transportation network come fall.

“Hat’s off to the voters for passing the bonds and the crews for fixing perennial eyesores,” wrote Craig Skillestad in response to an e-mail inquiry about construction.

“I shake my head in amazement at the folks that complain about construction, because they’re typically the loudest complainers about the poor street conditions in the first place,” said Skillestad, who commutes between his home in north Spokane and his job downtown.

This year Spokane spread its projects across the city, but the northwest and lower South Hill are experiencing the greatest inconvenience.

“Nothing good happens without sacrifice,” philosophized South Hill resident Kay Anderson, who has been negotiating the Thor/Freya work for the past couple of months.

Anderson added that all of the construction has the benefit of bringing in more jobs.

Those living in northwest Spokane also have to dodge a variety of projects to make their way north and south.

“At times it feels like you’re trapped in an endless maze,” said Lisa Lasswell who lives between Shadle Park and Five Mile. “I wonder sometimes about how they decide where closures will be and whether they’ll overlap like ours do, but I’m willing to be patient and look to the end result.”

“I live north of the Division Street ‘Y’ and work at the airport. To get there I now have to go all the way across to Nevada/Hamilton to avoid the construction,” said Bob Arnold, noting that the Monroe Street Bridge is under construction as are Ash and Government Way. Division is an issue because of the construction on Third, making access to the freeway difficult.

“The road work needs to get done, but I’m not sure it was the smartest thing in the world to tear up all of our north-south arterials at the same time,” Arnold said.

The abundance of north-south arterial projects is the main complaint about this season’s work.

“I do sometimes think the city forgets to allow sufficient ways through when they are planning repairs to the streets,” wrote northwest Spokane resident Les Norton in an e-mail. “But maybe as they get more of it going, they will learn that just as many cars have to get there somehow, and will leave wiggle room rather than tying up so many north/south corridors at once.”

It probably just feels that way to people, said Dallas Hawkins, chairman of Spokane’s Citizens Streets Advisory Commission.

“What we’re trying to do is a project in all three (City Council) districts, so everyone can see some work getting done,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins and his fellow commission members are tasked with representing Spokane citizens in the street construction process and reporting to the mayor and City Council about how well Spokane’s street bond dollars are being spent.

On Tuesday afternoon the group toured four projects.

Spokane County postponed its plans to repave Monroe Street north of Francis because of all the city work in that area.

“We’re commuters also, so we sympathize with them. We’re looking for ways to keep the traveling public moving,” said Assistant County Engineer Bob Brueggeman.

The county and city of Spokane also coordinated work this year on the incorporated and unincorporated portions of Regal Street in south Spokane to make sure those using that route weren’t inconvenienced during more than one roadwork season.

Local street construction officials say there isn’t any kind of formula to determine how much construction is too much.

It’s more by feel, said Bill Todd, an engineer with Spokane’s Street Department.

“We’re having internal discussions about whether the best thing to do is spread the projects out and have one in each quadrant or focus all of them on one area so that the rest of the city is relatively undisturbed,” Todd said.

Spokane city engineers have tried to find the balance between accomplishing the most work possible and making sure the public can still navigate the city, said Spokane Public Works Director Roger Flint.

“I think we’re right there,” he said.

Work on Third Avenue downtown has been particularly painful for many commuters.

Not only has the street been torn up to install a new water main, but major cross streets and I-90 on- and off-ramps have also been intermittently closed.

And for those who find themselves getting impatient while driving this summer, remember Bridget Piper’s glass-is-half-full take on the situation: “The current road maze is better for building or retaining our brain cells than the mindlessness of our driving-to-work routine.”