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Couplet closer to ballot

Sat., July 16, 2011

Council orders further study of Sprague/Appleway; asks ordinance be prepared to put issue to vote

The Spokane Valley City Council took another step Tuesday toward putting the one-way Sprague issue on the November ballot. It voted unanimously, with Councilman Bill Gothmann absent, to have city staff prepare an ordinance that would put the issue on the ballot if passed.

Two weeks ago the council gave the go ahead to spend about $40,000 on a preliminary traffic study on the Sprague/Appleway couplet between Argonne and University roads. The results were presented Tuesday and the council also approved moving forward with a second, more detailed study that is expected to cost from $40,000 to $60,000.

Ross Kelly of HDR Engineering said the initial study projected a flat 1.5 percent annual growth rate in traffic for all intersections in the couplet. Each intersection was graded, with A being the best and F considered a failing intersection.

If the couplet remains as is, it is estimated that the Sprague Avenue and University Road intersection would drop to a D rating during afternoon peak traffic in 2030. If the roads are converted to two-way, the Appleway Avenue and Dishman-Mica Road intersection would drop to a D during morning and afternoon peak traffic in 2030 and Sprague and University would also be a D intersection in the afternoon.

“D is a lot of stop and go and it causes you delays,” Kelly said. “That’s getting very close to failure.”

However, there are measures that can be taken to avoid the drop in grade at those intersections, he said. That includes prohibiting left turns at some intersections or creating right turn only lanes. “No fatal flaws were found,” he said. “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t go forward. It works.”

Councilman Dean Grafos asked if it would be safer to estimate annual traffic growth of 2 percent. “We’ve been real close to that already,” he said.

“We’ve never seen 2 percent growth before,” Kelly said. “That’s why we didn’t go there.”

The preliminary estimate for just the conversion is $1.6 million, which would only include restriping and signal upgrades, not improvements like new turn lanes. Repaving and stormwater upgrades would cost an estimated $1.8 million, plus another $1 million to $3 million for things like landscaping, curbs and sidewalks. Kelly called the $3 million landscaping plan, which would include a separated pathway, the “Cadillac” version.

Councilman Chuck Hafner said he wanted the project to include landscaping so it would be attractive. “We’re looking at well over $5 million,” he said.

Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said that since Sprague is the city’s major thoroughfare, the city should go with the $3 million landscaping plan. “I would go with the higher dollar amount,” she said. Councilman Dean Grafos said he agreed with Grassel.

University Road was improved and widened many years ago but it hasn’t seen the increase in traffic that was anticipated, said Councilman Arne Woodard. “I’d hate to see us do a lot of investment, a lot of changing and have people avoid it,” he said.

During the public comment time, resident David Hazzard said it is the “explosion” of growth on Sullivan Road that has drawn traffic away from businesses on Sprague, not the couplet. The conversion back to two-way wouldn’t help much and he’s not in favor of a “$5 million guessing game,” he said.

The two-way model has more problem intersections in 2030, said Grafos. “I think we should consider that,” he said.

Woodard said he has heard from residents who are upset that the city is considering putting the issue on the ballot. “I think that’s the only way we’re going to put this to bed,” he said.

Grafos has been the one pushing to add the issue to the ballot and first brought it up last year. He has said in the past that he doesn’t favor switching the couplet back to two-way, but believes a ballot issue is the only way to decide once and for all what should be done.

The council must decide whether to put the issue on the November ballot by Aug. 16. A special council meeting is tentatively planned for 6 p.m. on Aug. 15, for a final vote on whether to pay to have the issue added to the ballot.

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