Local news

$35 million grant to extend North Spokane freeway

Money is part of economic stimulus package that Congress approved

A $35 million federal stimulus grant was announced this morning to extend work on a North Spokane freeway, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

The grant is coming from a $1.5 billion pot of money set aside in last year’s economic stimulus package approved by Congress, and awarded nationally on a competitive basis.

“This is a huge win for a project that has long been the centerpiece of efforts to boost Spokane’s economy and create local jobs,” Murray said in a press release.

The money will pay for final roadwork, bridges and paving of three southbound lanes for the 3.7 miles between Farwell Road and an interchange on Freya Street just north of Francis Avenue.

So far, more than $550 million has been allocated to the North Spokane Corridor freeway project – mostly through state funding – to eventually connect U.S. Highway 395 and U.S. Highway 2 to Interstate 90 through northeast and east Spokane at a distance of 10 miles.

Total additional cost of completion is estimated at more than $1.6 billion.

Last August, the state opened the first leg of the project – a two-lane stretch from Farwell to Francis – on what will become in 2011 the northbound lanes of the freeway.

Work is on winter slowdown for two other contracted projects that will connect the freeway between Farwell and U.S. 395 at Wandermere. The work also involves lowering U.S. 2 onto an underpass and building a new interchange with the freeway just north of Farwell.

Today’s announcement came through the U.S. Department of Transportation in a section of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that Murray had helped craft as chair of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee.

The grant was sought by the Washington Department of Transportation.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., submitted a formal letter endorsing the grant even though she was among Republicans in the House who unanimously voted no on the recovery bill.

In a blog on her Web site, she criticizes President Obama and the stimulus bill for failing to create jobs.

But in her letter in September 2009 to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, McMorris Rodgers wrote, “This additional funding will enable our community, region and state to continue the progress already made. In fact, just last month, we were able to recognize the completion of the first phase. This event represented more than 50 years of planning and dedication by many in Eastern Washington.”

In a press release this afternoon, McMorris Rodgers said she voted against the larger stimulus bill because it did not include enough tax relief and spending for infrastructure projects.

According to the state DOT, the grant will directly create 106 jobs during the busiest portions of the construction season this year and in 2011.

The grant will build three southbound lanes and five bridges at Parksmith Road, Market Street, Fairview Road, Gerlach Road and Lincoln Road over a distance of 3.7 miles.

Once completed, the work will tie in with construction already underway to produce a six-lane freeway segment from the vicinity of Francis to Farwell and a four-lane segment from Farwell to Wandermere, a distance of 5.5 miles.

Another five miles of freeway is planned to connect the work to I-90. When completed, the freeway is expected to remove freight traffic from city and county surface streets and provide improved traffic flow across the northern portions of the Spokane urban area.

Murray’s office said she was instrumental in carving out the $1.5 billion pot of money known by the acronym TIGER for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, which emphasized projects that were ready to be built and are expected to have economic benefit.

Murray and Gov. Chris Gregoire are expected to be in Spokane on Thursday for a public appearance to talk about the freeway and the grant.

So far, the opened segment of the freeway has not drawn a lot of traffic. An early count by DOT showed it carrying 4,000 vehicles a day, although that number has probably increased, a DOT spokesman said this week.

A boulevard project on Seattle’s Mercer Street in the south Lake Union area also won a grant of $30 million in today’s announcement of about 60 grants nationwide.

The Transportation for America organization in Washington, D.C., called the TIGER grants “a first-ever program to award federal dollars on a competitive basis to innovative projects that address economic, environmental and travel issues at once.”



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