Spokane’s long-sought North Side freeway got a boost on Wednesday with the announcement of a $35 million federal economic stimulus grant to pay for a 3.7-mile extension of the southbound lanes between Francis Avenue and Farwell Road.
It was the only one of three grant applications from the Washington Department of Transportation to win funding in a $1.5 billion round of competition nationally.
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., had submitted a formal letter endorsing the grant application even though she was among Republicans in the House who voted against the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that authorized the spending.
The grant comes from a $1.5 billion pot of money set aside in the stimulus bill through the efforts of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee.
“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 $787 billion recovery act has become a major political debate with McMorris Rodgers and Republicans arguing against its merits and Democrats pointing to its successes at creating two million jobs nationwide.
The North Spokane Corridor grant would produce as many as 106 jobs at the height of construction this summer and in 2011.
To underline its importance, Murray, who is seeking re-election this fall, and Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire have scheduled a 10 a.m. appearance today on the Farwell Road overpass that is not yet open to traffic.
The money will pay for final roadwork, bridges and paving of three southbound lanes for the 3.7 miles between Farwell and Freya Street just north of Francis Avenue.
So far, more than $550 million has been allocated to the project – mostly through state funding – to eventually connect U.S. Highways 395 and 2 to Interstate 90 in east Spokane at a distance of 10.5 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 now will become the northbound lanes of the freeway in 2011.
Work is on winter slowdown for two other pieces of the freeway to connect the Farwell section with U.S. 395 at Wandermere and to build a major interchange and underpass for U.S. 2.
In a letter in September 2009 to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, McMorris Rodgers wrote, “As we look to the future, investment in our transportation infrastructure helps ensure successful economic growth, development, and global competiveness.”
But in a blog found on her House Web site, McMorris Rodgers wrote in an entry dated Feb. 9 that the stimulus act had failed because “it did not address the major cause of growing unemployment – low job creation in the private sector.”
She reiterated her position in a press release commenting on the grant Wednesday in which she acknowledged her no vote on the stimulus bill because the law does not include enough tax relief and spending for infrastructure projects.
The grant will build three southbound lanes and five bridges at Parksmith Road, Market Street, Fairview Road, Gerlach Road and Lincoln Road that parallel the existing opened lanes over a distance of 3.7 miles.
Once completed, the work will produce a six-lane freeway segment from the vicinity of Francis to Farwell and connect to the four-lane segment from Farwell to Wandermere, a total distance of 5.5 miles.
Another five miles of freeway is needed to connect the work to I-90.
Officials say the freeway will remove freight traffic from city and county surface streets and provide improved traffic flow across the northern portions of the Spokane urban area. It would fulfill a goal that dates back more than 60 years.
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.
There were about 60 grants nationwide in a $1.5 billion pot of money known as TIGER, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, which emphasized projects that were ready to be built and would have an economic benefit.
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.”