Council gets earful on roads

SATURDAY, MAY 15, 2010

Business owners, residents give input on summer projects

The Spokane Valley City Council was swamped with public testimony Tuesday night, with more than a dozen speakers talking for more than an hour. Most were commenting on the planned Broadway Avenue Safety Project to restripe Broadway between Pines and Park roads and complaining about the plan to completely close the Sprague and Sullivan Road intersection for three weeks while it is reconstructed.

Numerous business owners testified that they had assumed that the intersection would be partially open to traffic during construction and were surprised to find out different. They all said closing the intersection would greatly harm their businesses. Those that spoke included representatives from Lloyd’s Tire and Automotive, Les Schwab Tire Center, Plantland, Save More Building Supply, Jacob’s Upholstery, Napa Auto Parts, Maaco Auto Painting and BJ Auto Sales.

David Jacobs of Jacobs Upholstery said he now realizes that he should have attended meetings city staff had with business owners to discuss the construction project. “I’m just mad as heck, but I’m mad at myself,” he said, noting that he didn’t blame city staff because he did receive notices about the meetings and the project. “I don’t know what else the staff could have done short of going down and picking me up.”

Chris Clark of Lloyd’s Tire and Automotive suggested doing work at night instead. “We really need to keep some traffic flow,” he said.

In previous weeks, city staff reported that the majority of business owners who provided input said it would be better to shut the intersection down for three weeks rather than have it partially open for six to eight weeks. Doing a complete shutdown would also save $100,000 on construction costs.

Councilman Dean Grafos said the business interests were more important. “I know it costs more money, but there’s more to this,” he said. Hurting business’ bottom lines is not the thing to do “especially in this economy.” The council is scheduled to discuss the issue in greater detail at next week’s meeting.

Meanwhile, it seemed like a majority of council members were determined to kill the Broadway Avenue Safety Project, though Councilman Gary Schimmels objected to one citizen’s comments that the project was snuck in by staff at the last minute and no one had any say in the matter. The project has been listed in the city’s six-year Transportation Improvement Plan that details every road construction project planned, he said. The TIP is updated at least once a year.

“These projects did not come out of a vacuum,” he said. “I’d like you to rethink your attitude.”

Councilwoman Rose Dempsey agreed, pointing out that there were numerous chances for public comment. “This is something we discussed long and thoughtfully,” she said.

Public Works Director Neil Kersten said the project was one of 11 that received grant funds out of 99 that were submitted. “It’s been included in the TIP since 2007,” he said. “This has gone through years of approval.”

He also noted that the Broadway Avenue Safety Project was in the 2010 TIP that was just amended and approved unanimously by the Council at the April 13 meeting.

Restriping Broadway from four travel lanes to two travel lanes, a turn lane and bike paths will reduce the number of rear end and side impact collisions, Kersten said. It would also make it safer for cyclists and pedestrians. “Sidewalks are very tight, very close to the travel lanes.” He previously presented statistics showing that such accidents have dropped dramatically on the section of Broadway between Pines and Sullivan that has already been restriped.

Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said she sees pros and cons to both formats. “We haven’t had enough time for data on that conversion,” she said. She called for city staff to prepare a motion to stop the project and said the city can ill afford to spend the 20 percent matching funds required when a budget shortfall is looming.

Kersten said the Council would need to amend the TIP again, which will require a public hearing. Dempsey said she used to deliver a Meals on Wheels route that took her on the four-lane stretch of Broadway. “It was like taking my life into my hands coming out of that driveway,” she said.

Councilman Bob McCaslin said that a four-lane road does provide bicycle facilities. “You’ve got the road and the sidewalks to ride your bikes,” he said.

Dempsey said that she had discussed the issue with Spokane Valley Police Chief Rick Van Leuven. “I would point out that it’s illegal to ride your bikes on the sidewalk,” she said.

“He’s got to catch you first,” McCaslin said.

In other business the Council voted to send suggested code amendments to the Planning Commission to allow vehicle sales in the mixed-use avenue zone and to eliminate the requirement that restaurants and cafe’s have access to Sprague in the mixed-use avenue zone. While the amendments are specifically formulated to benefit two property owners, the changes would affect every business in that zone.

“The law of unintended consequences concerns me,” Dempsey said. “What can we do if we have some sort of disaster because of this?”

Community Development Director Kathy McClung said the Council would have time to change its mind because the issue isn’t likely to come back to the Council for approval until August. Public hearings will be held by the Planning Commission before they recommend approval or denial of the code amendments.

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