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Council weighs Mission speed limit

Sat., Dec. 3, 2011, midnight

Some members say area between Flora, Barker unsafe at 35 mph

Most members of the Spokane Valley City Council seemed to be in agreement Tuesday that the speed limit on Mission Avenue between Flora and Barker roads should be lowered from 35 to 30 mph, though some members suggested postponing the decision for a few months.

The road was designed for 35 mph and meets those design specifications even with a hill near the newly installed roundabout at Mission and Flora, said senior traffic engineer Inga Note. Three traffic studies, two of them completed this fall, show that 85 percent of the cars are going about 38 mph or slower.

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices states that speed limits should be within five mph of that 85th percentile speed. “I’m recommending the speed limit stay at 35 miles per hour,” Note said.

“Thirty-five is too fast on that mile stretch of road,” said Councilman Arne Woodard. There are a lot of children walking and people crossing the road to get their mail, he said. “I have a personal reason I want that to be 30.” Woodard said he wasn’t willing to disclose that reason.

Councilman Dean Grafos said he has driven through that area several times recently. “You probably would want to err on the side of safety,” he said.

Public Works Director Neil Kersten said staff is just trying to follow the rules laid out in the traffic manual. “What’s the effect of having the speed limited too low or too high based on the 85th percentile?” said Councilman Bill Gothmann.

People would likely still drive at the speed they want to, Kersten said. “Speed limits do not slow people down,” he said. The city would also get more complaints, both from people upset that the limit is too low and from those upset that the city isn’t doing enough to enforce the lower speed limit.

Gothmann said that by his count there are 898 parcels in the Greenacres neighborhood, which surrounds Mission. “How many people have you heard from on this issue?” he said. “Not very many,” said Note.

Councilman Gary Schimmels suggested waiting to set the speed limit since the road is probably getting traffic that is bypassing the construction on I-90. “We have a new road over there,” he said. “We have a new roundabout. We have a newly paved Mission from Flora to Barker. I would like to just cool our heels and look at this in three or four months.”

Grafos said he didn’t think the city would gain anything by waiting. “You have no sidewalks,” he said. “You have kids going along that road. I’m concerned about the safety of it. I don’t know why we would have to wait.”

“When are we going to do something about it?” Woodard said. “I don’t understand the hesitancy.”

Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said, “I don’t think it would be excessive to lower it from 35 to 30. We need to make a decision. That’s why we brought this up tonight.”

The council agreed to consider a resolution to set a new speed limit during the Dec. 13 council meeting.

In other business, the council discussed whether or not the city should apply for a federal grant to pay for two trail projects on old railroad right-of-ways. There is $29 million available nationally, said senior engineer Steve Worley, “which is not a lot of money.”

The city could submit the Spokane Valley-Millwood Trail, which would run from Spokane Community College to Evergreen Road with a construction price tag of $4.3 million, or the Greenacres Trail from Sullivan Road to Barker Road with a construction cost of $1 million. Both projects have already received grants to pay for design work.

Worley said the staff favors seeking a grant for the Spokane Valley-Millwood Trail. “We think it has the best shot at getting funded,” he said.

The grant application deadline is Friday, and the city would be required to provide 20 percent in matching funds if it receives a grant. Several council members balked at the estimated $800,000 in city money required for the Spokane Valley-Millwood Trail.

Grassel said she would rather use $800,000 for street preservation projects instead of a trail. “Our priorities are the roads, not trails,” she said. Worley said the grants in this category are usually given to safety improvement projects or trails, not road preservation.

“I know these trails are important to our bicyclists,” said Woodard. “I do think there are other priorities for that $800,000.” Woodard pointed out that the state Transportation Improvement Board recently decided to give the city grants to resurface Sprague Avenue from Evergreen Road to Sullivan and to extend Mansfield Avenue. “That’s another big chunk of change,” he said.

Woodard said the Greenacres Trail might be a better choice to submit, since the city’s share would be only $200,000. “I’m not as opposed to that,” he said.

Gothmann said the city applied for seven TIB grants and only was approved for two. “Unless we submit the projects, they are not going to be funded,” he said. “I would encourage us to apply for all the grants we can. The probability of getting everything you submit approved is pretty low.”

Councilman Chuck Hafner also said he preferred the city spend its money on something else. “A path is my least priority,” he said.

“We’re just bringing this to your attention,” Kersten said. “Maybe this is a grant we pass on,” Grassel said.

The council also had a brief discussion about breaking the Spokane Valley-Millwood Trail into phases to make the matching fund amount more palatable. They decided to have staff work on the grant application until the council reviews its capital projects lists at a Tuesday meeting and determines how much money it has available to spend.



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