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Sprague-Appleway couplet fate heads to ballot

Thu., Aug. 18, 2011

After lengthy debate Monday, the Spokane Valley City Council voted 5-2 to put the conversion of one-way Sprague Avenue and Appleway Boulevard between Argonne and University roads on the November ballot.

The ballot measure will include a $2.1 million bond to pay for the striping, traffic signals and sidewalk improvements required for the conversion of the mile-long stretches of road.

The original proposal was to ask for a $6.4 million bond, which would have added repaving, stormwater upgrades and extensive landscaping. Public Works Director Neil Kersten told the council Monday that revised estimates had bumped the cost of the various projects to $7 million.

Several people testified in favor of putting the issue on the ballot and several spoke against it. Debbie Ellis, owner of Empire Cycle and Power Sports, urged the council to just do the conversion and not put it to a vote. The couplet has dropped the traffic count and hurt businesses, she said. “Why would we want to keep it?” she asked.

Dan Allison said he doesn’t care if the roads are one-way or two-way. “I don’t think it should go on the ballot with a dollar amount,” he said. He also brought up a possible $4.2 million grant that has been discussed recently and wondered why city staff waited until the last minute to bring it up. “I wonder if they’re trying to torpedo the elections coming up,” he said.

Allison’s comments prompted City Manager Mike Jackson to reply, which he rarely does during public comments. The ballot measure was suggested by the council, not staff members, he said. “All the information regarding the $4.2 million has been before the council more than a year ago,” he said.

“I think putting it on the ballot is a waste of time,” said Philip Rudy. He suggested stripping the extras from the project and only asking voters for the minimum needed to convert the streets.

“If we wanted to back anything off, it would probably be from the landscaping,” said Councilman Dean Grafos.

Councilman Chuck Hafner asked if there was money to pay for the paving and stormwater improvements. “Is that in our budget going down the road?” he said. “We’re going to have to do this one way or the other.”

Jackson said the funds have not been set aside for the work, but funding options could be explored. Councilman Arne Woodard said he favored doing things right the first time, but worried about the increasing cost of the various elements. He suggested doing a bond for only the $2.1 million conversion costs. “It’s really about two-way, one-way,” he said. “I would pare it down.”

Hafner agreed, saying people have been “bickering for 10 years” about the couplet and it should be on the ballot with only the basic needs.”

Councilman Gary Schimmels said the higher dollar amount would “bring a DOA atmosphere” to the issue and he didn’t favor putting it on the ballot in any form. “I believe this is an action for the council,” he said.

The one-way debate also includes a public safety issue, said Councilman Bill Gothmann. The Spokane Valley Fire Department has an increased response time of 1 minute and 20 seconds for calls to the east of Station 1 at University City because their vehicles have to make a loop to get heading the right direction. A public safety issue should not be decided at the ballot box, he said. “It’s our responsibility to take care of it,” he said.

Gothmann said that if the ballot measure gets voted down, no one will know if it was because people like the one-way couplet or if people voted against it because of the bond. “Council will not know the answer,” he said.

Grafos said Station 1 is 35 years old, small and only on a one-acre lot. If the fire department thought it was such an important public safety issue it would move the station, he said. “There’s been talk for years about having that station relocated,” he said.

At the end of the discussion only Schimmels and Gothmann voted against putting the issue on the ballot.

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