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Sprague Avenue switch may go to voters

Ballot would include bond to pay for work

The years-long debate on whether Sprague Avenue should be one-way or two-way between University and Argonne roads got refreshed at Tuesday’s Spokane Valley City Council meeting as the council prepares to decide whether or not to put the issue on the November ballot. The council also discussed putting a bond measure on the ballot to pay for the road work.

City Manager Mike Jackson said the council must make the decision by Aug. 16. It would cost the city between $10,000 and $15,000 to put it on the ballot. But Jackson said the city should do traffic modeling first to determine the design of the two-way street. The work would take an estimated three months and cost the city about $75,000, he said. “It sounds like changing it back to two-way would impact the speed and flow of traffic,” he said.

The city should also do the design work because without a specific design it is difficult to estimate what the project would cost, he said. Councilman Dean Grafos said the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan included a price tag of $5.3 million to make the switch. “Couldn’t we take that figure?” he said.

Mayor Tom Towey said the $5.3 million included landscaping and beautification. Last year city staff estimated that a bare bones switch, which would only include traffic signals and striping, would cost about $1.2 million, he said.

Councilman Bill Gothmann objected to putting the issue on the ballot. The city does million-dollar road projects all the time and never asks for a public vote, he said. He said he believes the discussion about putting the issue to a public vote is being done for “political reasons.”

Karla Kayle of the Spokane Valley Business Association said she had similar concerns. If a vote is taken and the project is approved, no work could be done until next summer. “It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “It’s an unnecessary delay. This one-way to two-way is critical for economic vitality.”

The council didn’t ask for a public vote on other road projects or when they decided to kill the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan, she said. “We’re unclear on your logic,” she said. “We’re hopeful, sincerely hopeful, that this is not a political consideration.”

“Is this being used as political fodder?” said Grafos. “Yes, I think it has been by some groups in this community.”

The public should have the final say, Grafos said. “It’s the people’s money,” he said. “It’s not my money. Let them decide.”

If the council is interested in economic development then council members should vote to change Sprague Avenue back to a two-way, Gothmann said. “One-way traffic hurts small business,” he said. “We on the council should do our job.”

Gothmann also said he wasn’t in favor of asking people to pass a bond to pay for the work and will advise people to vote against if it gets on the ballot. “You’re asking people to pay for it twice,” he said. “They already gave you money for roads.”

“I think this has divided our city for eight years,” said Towey. “If we dip into their pockets for this conversion, we should let them decide.”

Councilman Arne Woodard said the project wouldn’t be like a normal road project that is paid for with a grant and only requires matching funds from the city. “This is distinctly different than our other projects,” he said. “This is a different decision, a different kind of process.”

The conversion is not a needed project but something that would only benefit business owners on that stretch of road, Grafos said. Councilman Chuck Hafner said it is the responsibility of those business owners to adjust. “Every business has to adjust to the times and the conditions,” he said.

Hafner said he was sure information could be found on both sides of the one-way debate. “I’ll take you up on your challenge,” Gothmann said. “You show me data that shows one-way traffic is good for business.”

The council is scheduled to hear more information from city staff on the issue at the June 28 council meeting.

In other business, the council unanimously approved two committee appointments suggested by Towey. Woodard will serve as the city’s representative to the Spokane Valley Chamber of commerce, and Hafner will participate in Spokane Transit Authority meetings.