Without the raised fingers and nudging pace that often result from detours, traffic proceeded comparatively smoothly on the first day of the three-week Sullivan Road closure between Mission and Indiana avenues.
The closure of the busiest north-south thoroughfares in Spokane Valley, prevents drivers from exiting Interstate 90 at Sullivan or using the road to cross the freeway. The Washington state Department of Transportation project was expected to cause backups for Spokane Valley shoppers as well as commuters.
For those who braced themselves for jolting stops and circuitous routes, the greatest surprise was not the wait, but the lack of it.
“The exit wasn’t busy at all,” said Alyssa Weakley, 19, supervisor of Boston’s The Gourmet Pizza at the edge of Spokane Valley Mall off Evergreen Road, the designated detour exit.
She said she expected long waits along the detour exit, especially at 3 p.m. when she headed to work. In fact, she had been wanting even more traffic. “Hopefully for us it gets busy because we are the only restaurant on the corner” of the detour exit, she said.
Sullivan Road business owners were equally surprised by the smooth traffic flow.
“It didn’t seem to make much difference, except some people forgot the exit was closed,” said John Payne, 56, co-owner and manager of the Schlotzsky’s on Sullivan. He looked around the empty restaurant and noted that it was slower than the usual for late afternoon.
“Still, we were busier than I thought we would be” earlier in the day, he said, adjusting the headset he uses to take sandwich orders.
The bigger problem is receiving deliveries, he said. The Evergreen exit requires a turn that some semitrucks cannot pull off, resulting in more backtracking and later deliveries.
“It’s understandable that work needs to be done, but I wish they would have done half of it at a time,” Payne said, referring to the closure of the exit on both sides of the freeway.
State Department of Transportation spokesman Al Gilson said it was necessary.
“Have you been on that road?” he asked, describing torn pavement and deep potholes. “It was bumpy and that’s putting it mildly.”
Gilson said the DOT expects limited congestion during the project.
“It was a decision between a three week full closure or up to several months of partial lane closure, and then it really would have been backed up severely,” he said. The department is resurfacing the asphalt road with concrete.
Payne looked out the window of his deli a few feet from where construction begins.
“I live in South Hill and when they closed 29th I just avoided the area until they were done,” he said.
“That’s probably what people should do.”