Larry Larson, project engineer for the north-south freeway, still gets calls from people who ask him: “When are you going to build it?” He is a patient man who explains that the freeway – official name: North Spokane Corridor – is already under construction and has been since 2001. You can see the corridor’s overpass bridges going up at Newport Highway and Farwell Road, as well as over Market Street.
The state is now buying up some homes in the East Central neighborhood. Ultimately, 570 residences and 110 businesses will be relocated to make way for the corridor. Larson and other state transportation officials have spoken to more than 200 civic and neighborhood groups about the project in recent years and sponsored several informational “open houses.” Yet the question persists: “When are you going to build it?”
The freeway idea first merged into the city’s imagination right after World War II. In the early 1970s, the plan gained traction but citizen groups in the Hamilton/Nevada corridor organized to stop it, fearing destruction of their neighborhood. The proposed freeway was rerouted, but the project stalled until the early 1990s. By 1997, more than 84 percent of Spokane County residents supported it.
The corridor is being built with federal and state funds, and with each gallon of gas you pump, you contribute. It will take an estimated $150 million a year for the next 20 years to get it completely done, and the corridor will continue to compete for funds against higher-visibility transportation projects on the state’s West side.
Making it a toll road would move it toward completion, but toll roads haven’t worked all that well in Spokane. Drivers bypassed the Maple Street Bridge toll, in effect from 1958 to 1990, by switching to other north-south streets.
But that was then and this is the future. And Spokane’s entrée into big-city status means more traffic ahead. Drivers may be more willing now to pay to escape it. And given the scarcity of funds and today’s political reality (a new Highway 520 bridge over Lake Washington between Seattle and Bellevue will require tolls), they probably won’t have a choice.
Older citizens who lost track of the freeway after the 1970s controversy, as well as Spokane newcomers, can read up on the project’s history and get updates about its progress on Washington state’s Department of Transportation Web site. You’ll discover, for instance, that it’s called a corridor rather than a freeway because the plan includes bike paths and accommodations for light rail.
Taxpayers and drivers will pay for the much-needed Spokane North Corridor one way or another in the coming two decades. Find out now exactly what you’ll be getting for your money.