February 4, 2007 in Opinion

Our view: Freeway neglected

The Spokesman-Review
 
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It’s awards season, so we nominate Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels for Best Performance in a Drama for his reaction to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s transportation budget, which would kill the idea of a cut-and-cover tunnel in downtown Seattle.

“We are deeply disappointed with the announcement … by the governor and legislative leadership. After asking for a public vote, the leadership in Olympia is now saying they are not interested in the opinions of Seattle citizens. Instead, they are threatening to impose a new elevated freeway or, even worse, taking state funding away from the most dangerous section of highway in the state of Washington. No other city in the state has been treated in this manner.

Make that Best Comedic Performance.

Traffic planners conceived of a north-south freeway in Spokane nine years before the 51-year-old Nickels was born. The city held a public vote … in 1973. Fifty-eight percent of voters wanted it. Multiple surveys since then show increasing support for it.

We won’t be presumptuous and say that no other city in the state has been treated this way, but we do know that Spokane has, and it’s time that it stopped.

Several local lawmakers have signed on to efforts by Rep. Lynn Schindler, R-Spokane Valley, and Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, to increase the pace of funding for what is now called the North Spokane Corridor.

Spokane won’t be able to reach its economic potential without it. And given the jammed ports up and down the West Coast, the state would be smart to diversify the ways it can move freight.

Schindler says the Legislature shortchanged the Spokane project when a Special Category C Account was established in 1990 to pay off bonds for high-priced projects. A 5-cent gasoline tax was imposed at the time, and two other projects in the Seattle area have sucked up 90 percent of the money.

Some lawmakers dispute whether there was an oral agreement to spend more on the North Spokane Corridor, but there’s no disputing where the money went.

That neglect has prompted Schindler to introduce a bill that earmarks $270 million toward the $2.1 billion project. Marr, a former chairman of the state Transportation Commission, agrees that the project has been overlooked, and his response is a bill that calls for more transportation bonds to be floated. But he doesn’t specify where the money would be spent. That’s probably a better way to get others to vote for the bill, but after 61 years, we’re not confident that lawmakers will do the right thing.

The governor was right to kill the $4.6 billion tunnel proposal in favor of $2.8 billion for another elevated viaduct in Seattle. Plus, the continual cost overruns of Sound Transit boondoggles should be sufficient warning that the price tag for a tunnel would have probably gone up, which would have drained funding from other projects.

Gregoire’s 2007-09 budget calls for $140 million to be spent on the North Spokane Corridor. Another $270 million financed by bonds is only fair given the dramatic neglect.


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