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Highway 2 plan discussed

Proposals cover span from Lincoln County to Interstate 90

More traffic lights, improvements to crosswalks and a possible roundabout at the Craig Road intersection were among proposals for a stretch of U.S. Highway 2 which runs through Airway Heights.

The Washington State Department of Transportation has recommended several improvements on Highway 2 after completing a route development plan from the Lincoln County line to Interstate 90 near Spokane. The proposals were presented last week at an open house in Airway Heights.

The plan, initiated in January 2007, will be used to identify shortcomings and improve the area’s transportation system. WSDOT engineer Dave Dean said that in this case, rapid growth of Airway Heights and ongoing safety issues prompted a look at the route.

“It’s really a 20-year look at what’s happening in the corridor. … It acts as a decision-making tool for some of the jurisdictions involved,” he said.

The need for route improvements in Airway Heights is clear, Dean said. According to a WSDOT study, there were 1,400 vehicles per peak hour in 2007, which will increase to 2,600 by 2015 and 3,500 by 2030 if growth remains constant. Dean said the route could in time see as much traffic as Division Street in Spokane, about 50,000 vehicles per day.

The route development plan also gathered input via public surveys along the route, which indicated concerns in areas such as intersection operations, pedestrian safety and congestion.

New traffic lights are proposed at multiple crossroads, but Flint Road and Spotted Road could see more controls in the next few years. “We have a recommendation for every intersection east of Lawson to eventually have stoplights, and that, of course, depends on when the need arises,” said Dean.

In the long term, several alternate corridors were considered to deal with future high traffic flows along Highway 2, including 21st Street, which runs parallel to the highway from South Hazelwood Road to South Lundstrom Street.

Jerry Compton, another WSDOT engineer who worked on the route plan, said instead of an eventual signal at the Craig Road intersection, a multilane roundabout could lead to fewer accidents, less idling time and increased flow of traffic.

Despite the increased price of a roundabout, Compton pointed to costs associated with delay, such as fuel spent while idling. He cited a study which showed that with fuel costs at $4 per gallon, a roundabout offers a $94,000 yearly savings over a traffic light.

Compton showed a computer-generated model of 2030 traffic flows through the Craig Road interchange, one with a signal and one with a roundabout. “The signal is about 20 seconds delay per car, and the roundabout is nine seconds average delay,” he said.

Compton also said there are roughly 80 percent fewer accidents with roundabouts due to the way they’re constructed. “You don’t have to put up signs for enforcement, the geometry requires drivers to slow down and pay attention.”

Airway Heights city leaders have expressed concerns, saying they aren’t convinced that four lanes of traffic can work into a viable roundabout at Craig Road. “Three years ago they were interested, now they’re not so interested but that decision will be made when the money’s being put together,” Dean said.

Meanwhile, Dean said some of the recommendations will go into the Highway Systems Plan where they’ll have a better chance of funding, while other upgrades may be paid for by developers who are impacting the roads.

“They’re growing so fast out here it was a moving target just to get traffic volumes and that sort of thing,” Dean said. “Even now we feel like we’re a year behind everything, but with the recession hitting it slowed development down. We do feel like we have a pretty good handle on how to keep things moving and keep people safe for the next 20 or 30 years.”

Pay increases approved

In other Airway Heights city news, a proposed pay increase for council members and the mayor was approved after a special session of the City Council May 25.

Increases won’t go into effect until the next voting cycle, and will increase monthly compensation for the mayor from $500 to $2,000, the deputy mayor from $300 to $750 and council members from $300 to $500. Mayor Matthew Pedersen said that because a few members of the council are considering leaving office, the city hopes to use the salary bump as an added incentive for new candidates.