Our View: Local officials, taxpayers need to know specifics
So difference does it make if a truck loaded with cargo for Canada can’t glide off of Interstate 90 east of Spokane and wind up 12 efficient minutes later merging onto U.S. 395 at Wandermere to the north?
That question ought to be put to the morning rush-hour motorists somewhere on North Freya, waiting through two or three green-light cycles for the semi ahead of them to negotiate a tricky turn. If their voices – not to mention the trucker’s – had been heard and heeded over the years, the Spokane region might have more to show for 60 years of discussion about a north-south highway corridor.
In fairness, there are some tangible signs of progress. A section of Farwell Road has been lowered. A segment of the project has been completed between Gerlach and Wandermere. Bridges are under construction at Fairview, Market, Parksmith, Shady Slope and Perry.
But even if all the funding – all $3.3 billion – were sitting in a neat stack waiting to be spent, the Washington state Department of Transportation estimates, it would take 10 more years to complete the corridor.
The funds are not available, of course. In fact, they are scarcer than ever, and a major question looming before officials in Spokane and other communities with pressing transportation infrastructure needs is how much of a contribution they will have to make to what traditionally has been essentially a state responsibility.
In Olympia recently, a Spokane-area delegation talked about it with legislators but came away frustrated at a lack of answers. The state itself doesn’t know how much of a gap local dollars have to fill because the state’s own revenues are suffering. Cost-conscious motorists have responded to rising gasoline prices by driving fewer miles and in more energy-efficient vehicles. Bye-bye, gas tax collections.
And in Spokane, with its notorious street-repair challenges, elected officials are wary of using locally generated funding to build a North-South Corridor without diverting some of it for patching potholes. Residents suffering with deteriorating streets in their own neighborhoods lack sympathy for a quasi-freeway that’s intended mostly to whisk people and goods through the community.
There’s much more to it than that, of course. Cargo traffic along U.S. 395 has increased 60 percent in the past 15 years while the North-South Corridor project has mostly stood still. Federal dollars have made but a scant contribution, even though much of that increased freight movement is attributed to the North American Free Trade Agreement, a federal undertaking.
One way to look at the impact this has on Spokane is to measure the benefits the Department of Transportation estimates the corridor will produce for the community: $22 million a year in societal savings because of accidents; 2.4 million pounds less carbon monoxide going into the region’s air; 1.7 million fewer gallons of gasoline being burned up; and an incalculable amount of anxiety on the part of those North Freya commuters.
So, yes, Spokane has a stake in the North-South Corridor, even those who may never drive on it. But so do the state and federal governments, and they should provide local officials with reasonable formulas that spell out what’s expected of a community and what it can expect in return from higher levels of government.
That’s not going to happen during the current, short legislative session in Olympia, but by the time the budget-writing 2009 session convenes in 11 months, state lawmakers and transportation officials should be ready to offer a plan.
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