All eyes will be on the Spokane Valley City Council on Tuesday to see if a recent surge of comments in favor of the Broadway Avenue Safety Project will be enough to convince at least four council members not to postpone the project.
The project, which has received a grant from the Transportation Improvement Board for $746,000, would restripe Broadway between Park and Pines from four lanes to two traffic lanes, a center turn lane and two bike lanes. Sidewalks in the area would also be improved and brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A group of Spokane Valley residents has gotten organized in recent weeks, setting up a Facebook page called “Spokane Valley Cyclists For the Broadway Safety Project” and commenting at City Council meetings. A group of them turned out for last week’s workshop on the Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan to express their support for bike lanes and the Broadway project in particular. But it may be too little too late.
Mayor Tom Towey joined council members Dean Grafos, Brenda Grassel and Gary Schimmels in asking city staff to prepare a motion to postpone the project until next year during the May 19 council meeting.
Grassel, who first brought up concerns about the project at the April 20 council meeting, had been pushing to cancel the project entirely. That would have meant giving the grant money back and there was less support on the council for that option. If the council does not vote to do the project next year the city will lose the grant money.
Veradale resident Cathy Harris is an avid cyclist and has been speaking out in favor of the project. She said she has read the grant application and spoken to city staff members, who have told her that 27 percent of the cost of the project would fund ADA sidewalk improvement. “They’re being asked to pay for 20 percent of the project when 27 percent of the project is something they won’t be able to get out of,” she said. “I don’t think that’s going to be a choice at this point.”
Harris attended the Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan workshop to express support for the Broadway project. She spoke to Grassel about the project and said Grassel told her that if bicyclists were interested in the project, they should help pay for it.
Grassel said she was referring to projects in other cities that bicyclists had rallied around and helped get grant money for. “I think my comment to her was that it would be a good endeavor for them to look into,” she said. “I wasn’t specifically talking about Broadway.”
Harris said that wasn’t how she interpreted Grassel’s remarks. “Without a doubt it was this project,” she said. “I can’t tell you what another person is thinking, but the comment was made in the context of the Safety Project.”
Some people who spoke out against the project early on said the city would save money by not doing the project since the city would be required to pay nearly $200,000 to provide a 20 percent match. However, matching funds for road construction projects are funded entirely by real estate excise taxes (REET) that are collected whenever a home sells.
Those funds can only be used on capital projects such as roads, parks and bridges, said city engineer Steve Worley. In an effort to make dollars stretch, nearly every city road project is partially funded by the state or federal government. “Almost all road projects have a grant,” he said. “We did one or two projects without a grant and all of it came from REET.”
Grassel said her concerns with the project rest on safety data available after a section of Broadway from Pines to Sullivan was restriped to three lanes. The numbers have shown a decrease in accidents, but the information is only for two years. “I haven’t made a decision,” she said. “I’m still looking at all the facts on it. I’m just going to review the notes again.”
Grassel said she’s not sure what Tuesday’s decision will be. “Quite honestly I’m not sure there would be the votes to postpone it,” she said. “I can’t read their minds.”
Councilman Bill Gothmann said he has always been a supporter of the project and he hopes it is not postponed. He said he has researched data available on the three-lane option in 18 different states and it all concludes that the three-lane option is safer than four lanes. “Every single one of their studies have shown a decrease in accidents,” he said. “Unless someone can come up with data that shows all 18 states are wrong, it would be very difficult to see where we shouldn’t go ahead with this project.”
He said it will make travel safer for bicyclists, pedestrians and schoolchildren as well as motorists. “I have not seen any reasons why we should not go ahead with this,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you want to?”