The people have spoken, and the Spokane Valley City Council listened.
After weeks of debate and a late surge in public comments in favor of keeping the Broadway Avenue Safety Project, citizens at Tuesday’s meeting convinced a majority to reject a motion to postpone the project.
The project, originally scheduled to begin construction in June, was put on hold after Councilwoman Brenda Grassel objected to it during the April 20 council meeting. The project will restripe Broadway between Pines and Park from four lanes to two traffic lanes, a center turn lane and bike lanes. The sidewalks will also be made compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The city has received a state grant of $746,000 to pay 80 percent of the cost.
After the meeting city engineer Steve Worley said the Broadway Avenue Safety Project will resume, but it was on hold for a long time and there are still right of way issues to be worked out. “We could get the project bid out this year, but it’s unlikely that it would be finished,” he said. “We would likely wait until spring.”
Resident Cathy Harris was one of 13 who spoke in favor of the project; only one person spoke against it. It is “not a special project for bicycles,” she said. “The project includes a huge number of valuable improvements.”
Harris also noted that 27 percent of the project cost is for ADA sidewalk improvements while the city is only being asked to pay for 20 percent of the cost.
Several residents said they had to cross Broadway to bring their children to Ness Elementary and that crossing the busy street on foot is dangerous. “I’ve got a daughter who is going to Ness in the fall,” said Christopher Pierce. “There’s no way I’m going to cross Broadway with a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old.”
Brian Bale said he won’t allow his children to walk to Ness alone and avoids the sidewalks there as well. “We don’t even walk there anymore as a family because there’s not enough room,” he said.
David Scott said that when he tries to cross Broadway to take his son to school, often a car will stop in one lane and he is unable to see if there is oncoming traffic in the next lane. “It’s dangerous getting over there,” he said. Scott said he has also recently started riding his bike to work, but doesn’t like that section of Broadway because it is narrow and cars won’t move over to give him room. “It is scary going down that street even at 4:30 in the morning.”
Marc Mims said the city would not save any money by halting the project, which will employ local people. He also said Grassel’s campaign website included a pledge to “make public safety a priority.” He said if Grassel voted against the Safety Project “I will see that as a violation of that pledge.”
Councilwoman Rose Dempsey said she was glad people were making their views known. “I am really pleased with the extent of public comment on this,” she said. “We’ve had scores of e-mails.”
Councilman Dean Grafos and Grassel voted to postpone the project; Councilman Bob McCaslin was absent. Grassel said she was not convinced by data showing the three-lane configuration reduces the number of accidents. “I think both configurations have their pros and cons,” she said.
Grafos said the ADA improvements are necessary and the city should “go ahead immediately” with them. He said he was concerned about the lack of data on the project. “I think we could do the ADA requirements and leave the striping until spring,” he said. “I just don’t think we have enough information.”
Councilman Bill Gothmann said there was enough information to go forward. “The cost of additional data could be broken limbs, cars that are wrecked, lives that are affected,” he said.
City staff has presented multiple reports to the city council in the last several weeks giving accident information and more. Public Works Director Neil Kersten said during the May 4 council meeting that the project must move forward as a whole and the sidewalk improvements cannot be separated out.
Mayor Tom Towey joined Gothmann, Dempsey and Councilman Gary Schimmels in voting to move forward with construction “simply because of the safety factor,” Towey said. “It is our responsibility as a council to put safety as our number one issue.”
Schimmels noted that people who spoke repeatedly against the project at first had not been heard from in some time. “We had a lot of dissenters here up front,” he said. “Maybe we wore them down or maybe they were smug enough to think they had pushed it through.”