In some science fiction films, asphalt roads have disappeared. Citizens get around in “hovercars” that fly through the air above crowded cities. On the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Web site, you can watch a four-minute video animation that depicts what the North Spokane Corridor (sometimes called the north-south freeway) will look like when completed.
At first glance, the animated cars appear to be hovering in the air. They aren’t, but society might be into hovercars by the time the project is done. At least that’s how it feels sometimes.
Old-timers have long heard how the corridor will connect far north Spokane with Interstate 90 near downtown. It was first talked about right after World War II – more than 60 years ago. Progress started and stalled throughout subsequent decades. Neighborhood protests stopped it for a while. A proposed route change helped start it again. A decade ago, 84 percent of Spokane citizens said they endorsed a north-south freeway. But money was the big issue then and now.
It will cost $2.1 billion to finish it. Inflation could increase that to $3.3 billion over 20 years, the anticipated build-out timeframe. And the debate over funding is like that hot-potato game. How much should the feds pay? The state? The locals? How about a toll?
One of the big problems is citizens can’t yet use the corridor. Taxpayers like to see what they are paying for, especially during jittery economic times. A year from now a small portion of the corridor between Francis Avenue and Farwell Road will open to traffic. In 2011, a four-lane highway, stretching from U.S. 2 to Wandermere, is scheduled to open, too. These visible signs will help the cause of those who believe the corridor is essential to commerce, tourism and traffic congestion in the Inland Northwest. These visible signs might convince skeptics that all this money, and all this talk, will finally result in a usable corridor, rather than a partially built freeway to nowhere.
Ultimately, citizen demand could determine whether the 60-year-old dream ever gets completed. So citizens should take every opportunity to get informed. On Thursday the state’s transportation department will sponsor an open house about the project. It’s a good opportunity to meet the project’s visionaries and engineers.
Citizens who attend should ask the tough questions, including whether the North Spokane Corridor, the legendary north-south freeway, will someday be reality or remain the stuff of community fiction.