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Stimulus funds offer new life to well-traveled highways

A series of state highway projects worth more than $20 million is about to get started in northeast Washington as a result of the federal economic stimulus plan approved by Congress earlier this year.

Regional Administrator Keith Metcalf of the state Department of Transportation said, “Most of the stimulus money we received in this region was for highway preservation and for safety.”

The governor’s office estimated that the money will support 250 construction jobs in a sector of the economy that has been hit hard by the current recession, Metcalf said.

State Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, said the money being spent by DOT is in addition to $10 million in stimulus funds going for locally-based road projects. While none of the projects is large like the freeway work now going on in Spokane, they are essential to preserving sections of highly traveled highways, he said.

The two largest projects are repaving on intercity routes north of Spokane, including a 12.5-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 2 between state Highway 211 and Newport in Pend Oreille County. Inland Asphalt won a $5.2 million bid for that job.

The other large project is repaving of 29 miles of U.S. Highway 395 from Loon Lake to Immel Road just northwest of Chewelah. The repaving there has been divided into two contracts, with Central Washington Asphalt of Moses Lake the winning bidder for a $5.4 million job on the northern 22.3 miles of highway. Knife River of Colville is getting a $1.7 million contract for the southern portion.

The repaving jobs will include upgraded guard rails, signs, rumble strips and other work.

Lower oil prices and a competitive construction environment resulted in bids coming in below estimates, allowing the DOT to increase the number of projects that can be financed with stimulus money, Metcalf said.

One of those additional projects involves anchoring concrete pavement panels on U.S. Highway 195 through Latah Valley in southwest Spokane. A contractor is going to be hired to set steel dowel bars to connect the panels so they cannot settle or buckle, a job that is intended to preserve a smooth driving surface there.

Other projects are:

•Repaving Mount Spokane Park Drive from U.S. 2 to Bruce Road.

•Installing radio advisory systems at Sherman Pass on state Highway 20 and Hatton Coulee rest area on U.S. 395.

•Adding centerline rumble strips on U.S. 2 from Fairchild Air Force Base to the Lincoln-Grant county line; on U.S. 195 from Dry Creek Road to Spangle; on U.S. 395 from Loon Lake to Colville; and on state Highway 902 both northeast and southwest of Medical Lake.

•Erect a pedestrian bridge and trail on U.S. 2 through Wilbur.

Holiday travel expected to drop

AAA is estimating that holiday travel over the July Fourth weekend will drop by 1.9 percent both nationally and within Washington state compared with 2008.

Economic uncertainty, higher unemployment and lower wages are the reasons given for the reduction.

As a result, discounts are being offered that can help travelers make their vacation dollars go further, AAA said in a news release last week.

Higher fuel prices since May also appear to have dampened enthusiasm for vehicle travel, AAA said.

Improved air fares could lead to an increase in air travel of about 5 percent, the organization said. However, air travel accounts for only about 5 percent of travel over the July Fourth weekend.