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Funds OK’d for highway

OLYMPIA – The decades-in-the-making North Spokane Corridor project may get an extra $32 million from the state, thanks to a supplemental transportation budget approved by the Legislature this week.

“That helped us. I don’t vote for the transportation budget often – and I did this time,” said Rep. Lynn Schindler, R-Otis Orchards.

She’s one of several local lawmakers who pushed to get the money in the budget.

The cash – which must still be approved by Gov. Chris Gregoire – would go toward the more than $2 billion effort to create an efficient highway link between U.S. 395 and Interstate 90.

Right now, trucks trying to get between those two highways creep along through congested streets.

When finished, the corridor will be a 60-mph limited-access highway, with drivers able to travel between Wandermere and I-90 in less than 12 minutes.

State traffic experts predict that the reduced local congestion will mean 700 fewer accidents in the area per year.

Despite the extra $32 million, the vast majority of the project has yet to be paid for. In 2003, lawmakers designated $189 million for the corridor.

Two years later, they added another $152 million. But someone – the state or the feds, most likely – will have to come up with the remaining $1.86 billion.

In future years, state lawmakers from the Spokane area say, they hope to shift money for Seattle-area projects into the corridor in cases where the Puget Sound work is delayed by environmental studies, local fund-raising delays or other problems.