During Tuesday’s council meeting, Spokane Valley Councilman Dean Grafos acknowledged that he has been orchestrating the recent public comment against the full closure of the Sprague and Sullivan intersection for three weeks while it is reconstructed.
At the May 11 council meeting, nine business owners and managers spoke against the project. All said the project would hurt their business and they had just assumed the intersection would be partially closed during construction. Most of them also mentioned how many employees they had and that the closure would impact them as well.
During that meeting Grafos had read a list of 11 other business that he said were also against the project. At Tuesday’s meeting, he announced that he had 47 more. He read names of businesses that were at the heart of the project and others as far away as Yoke’s and Jennifer’s Auto Sales. “One hundred percent of the people I talked to didn’t want it closed,” he said.
Councilwoman Rose Dempsey, who sits next to Grafos on the dais, noted that Grafos appeared to be reading from a petition and asked him to read the text of the petition. The wording said that closing the intersection for three weeks would be detrimental to business, that the decision caught business owners by surprise and that they wanted the council to overturn the decision of the public works director to close the intersection.
“Did you compose this petition and circulate it?” Dempsey asked.
“Yes, I did,” Grafos said.
During a break in the meeting, Grafos said that he had asked the business owners who commented at the May 11 meeting to do so. “I contacted them,” he said. “They asked me how they could help. I suggested they come and speak at the council.”
Grafos is the one who raised the issue of rethinking the Sprague and Sullivan intersection project. At the May 4 meeting he said he wanted the issue added to the agenda because he disagreed with the decision to completely close the intersection during construction. “I think that’s very detrimental to business,” he said at the time. “I don’t think we should do that.”
On April 13 the council unanimously approved the amended six-year transportation improvement plan that included the Sprague and Sullivan project and the three-week closure of the intersection
Grafos said Tuesday that his opposition to the project has nothing to do with the fact that his business, Sprague and Sullivan Mini-Storage, is located near the intersection. His property is at Sprague and Conklin, and Conklin will be a detour route during the project. “It’s not about my property interests,” he said. “It’s about the businesses that will be impacted.”
In the end a majority of the council did not agree with Grafos and the project will go out to bid next week as planned. Construction is set to begin July 19.
Senior engineer Steve Worley said the city staff made the decision to close the intersection after hosting an open house in January 2009. He said 31 business owners attended and after the staff presented the pros and cons of complete shut down for three weeks versus a partial shut down for eight weeks, the majority of the business owners were in favor of full closure. “It would have been great to have all those other people there,” Worley said, referring to all the business owners who commented at last week’s meeting.
Councilman Bill Gothmann noted that Grafos owned property in the area of the project and asked Grafos if he had been notified of it. “Were you at that meeting?” he said.
Grafos said he did receive information in the mail about the project last year, but did not attend the January meeting that prompted city staff to decide on the full closure option.
If the project had been shifted to a partial closure city staff would have had to completely redesign the project and push back construction to 2011, Worley said. The partial closure option would also cost at least an additional $120,000 because of added flagging and signal work required. Rising materials costs might also bump up the cost. “We know right now we’re getting good bids,” said Public Works Director Neil Kersten. “That may continue next year and it may not.”
The intersection has such high traffic counts that closing the intersection should be easier, Worley said. A partial closure would result in long lines of backed up traffic that would block access to the businesses closest to the intersection. With complete closure and detours set up several blocks away from the intersection, people should have easy accesses to those businesses. “We felt this was a lot less confusion for drivers and a lot less frustrating,” he said. “We will have access to them at all times during the full closure option. We felt that was critical and important.”
Both Gothmann and Mayor Tom Towey noted that once the project was approved, how to do the project is decided by city staff. “This is a staff decision,” Gothmann said. “This is not a policy decision.”
Councilman Gary Schimmels said it was important to finish the project quickly. “Anytime you do a project it’s like taking a poison pill,” he said. “Do you want to take that poison pill for three weeks or for eight?”
Dempsey agreed. “If everyone has access to their business, I think the obvious thing is to take the lesser time.”