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Proposal shrinks corridor, price

changes apply to 3-mile stretch

OLYMPIA – Trying to kick-start the next phase of the years-in-the-making North Spokane Corridor, state lawmakers this morning will propose a slimmed-down version.

The plan, crafted by state engineers, trims costs on a three-mile stretch from Francis Avenue south to the Spokane River. Instead of the expected $720 million, the new plan for the section is pegged at $285 million.

“Instead of building a Cadillac, we’re building a Chevy,” said state Sen. Chris Marr. “It’ll get us where we need to go, and we can always upgrade.”

Marr, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and state Rep. Timm Ormsby, all Spokane Democrats, will hold a press conference this morning in Spokane to discuss specifics.

Among the changes:

•A planned Wellesley interchange northwest of the Esmeralda Golf Course would be added later.

•The road would have four lanes instead of eight.

•Plans to put parts of the freeway below ground level would be shelved.

The interchange and additional lanes could be built later, Marr said. The corridor’s right-of-way, he said, would be designed to accommodate future growth.

He compared the slimmer proposal to a plan by a cash-strapped family to pour a foundation for a five-bedroom home but build only three bedrooms to start.

“Let’s build the capacity we need today,” he said.

Having the next phase ready to go also positions it well to receive funding under a potential federal or state economic stimulus plan, he said.

Congress, President-elect Barack Obama and Gov. Chris Gregoire are discussing plans to create jobs with public construction projects.

Marr said the Francis-to-river route would change slightly to save costs and skirt commercial land in favor of industrial tracts. No homes would be affected, he said.

Originally proposed in 1946, the North Spokane Corridor between U.S. Highway 395 and Interstate 90 was stalled for decades. It’s aimed at easing the stop-and-go traffic that inches between lights on city streets.

Crews broke ground on the project in 2001. The first segment, between Francis and Farwell, is slated to open early next year, according to the state Department of Transportation. The second, from Farwell to Wandermere, should open by 2011.

If other lawmakers agree to the cheaper proposal, Marr said, motorists will drive the third stretch, Francis to the river, by 2015. Design and environmental work would start almost immediately.

At the original price, he said, it would take much longer, if it happened at all.

“It wasn’t realistic, that $720 million plan,” Marr said. “… It wasn’t going to get built. That’s the bottom line.”

Also, he said, the cheaper version of the plan could be done without tapping local taxpayers or imposing tolls, as do the largest Puget Sound-area transportation projects, such as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge or new floating bridges.

It’s impractical to toll the north-south freeway, Marr said.

And local officials were unenthusiastic about raising vehicle license fees to help pay for the project.

Brown cautioned that the $3.3 billion undertaking, including a $1 billion final stretch across the Spokane River to I-90, likely will require some local dollars eventually.

“I think it’s inevitable over time that the Spokane region will have to contribute to its own transportation solution,” she said.

Spokane taxpayers may be more supportive, Marr said, once they can drive on those first 8 1/2 miles.

“What you have to do is deliver the public something it can use,” he said.

Richard Roesler can be reached at (360) 664-2598 or by e-mail at