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Finished span of road buoys faith in corridor

Finally, Spokane has something concrete to show for half a century of dreaming and talking about a north-south highway.

On Saturday, the first drivable link of what’s now officially called the North Spokane Corridor will open amid the customary hoopla – ribbon-cutting, hot dogs, showy cars and monster equipment, balloons, T-shirts and a cast of dignitaries. The most underwhelming part of the event will be the showpiece infrastructure itself: 3.7 miles of pavement (one lane in each direction) between Francis Avenue and Farwell Road. There will be bike and pedestrian paths, too, but the driver behind this project has always been the need for freight and passengers to move efficiently north of Spokane.

No one argues that what opens Saturday will do the trick. Even the project’s most enthusiastic champions concede that motorists will have to go out of their way to use it for now. But in two years, using funding already approved, the route will extend from Farwell on to Wandermere on U.S. Highway 395. And if all goes well with a federal stimulus funding application the state is about to submit, the full Francis-Wandermere link would be widened fairly soon to multiple lanes in each direction.

Despite the limited progress that’s ready for display now, the ribbon-cutting festivities could be eye-opening for a community that has grown cynical after decades of talk and unfulfilled promises. Actually, more than half a billion dollars has already been spent on the North Spokane Corridor, but because most of that has been spent on property acquisition, the public has seen little to revive its faith.

Saturday’s agenda will provide a close-up picture of what is, along with a plausible vision of what will be.

Once complete, the North Spokane Corridor will relieve the congestion, neighborhood inconvenience, surface pounding and exhaust emissions that Division Street and the city’s other north-south arterials now endure.

Improved freight mobility will make Spokane competitive for manufacturing interests who value convenient transportation to and from Canada. Residents of north Spokane will be only a short hop from Interstate 90. And, as a bonus, recreationists will have a corridor from the Centennial Trail to Wandermere.

There’s a lot to be done still, but the long-awaited opening of this modest segment of the North Spokane Corridor is welcome evidence of progress.

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