March 21, 2011 in City

Getting There: To STA, city, transit future looks electric

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The public will get another look at a proposal to build an electric streetcar or trolley line through downtown Spokane.

An open house is planned on March 29 from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at Chase Gallery in the lower level of City Hall.

A Central City Transit Alternatives Analysis will be among a number of downtown-area projects at the event.

Through a consultant, the city and Spokane Transit Authority have identified a preferred route for the high-performance line to carry people between Browne’s Addition and the University District.

Currently, an estimated 142,000 daily trips occur along the corridor, and about 30 percent of traffic in the downtown area is made up of drivers looking for parking, STA officials said.

A trolley or streetcar running every 10 to 15 minutes would alleviate a lot of that traffic and create a new identity for downtown, said Susan Meyer, STA’s chief executive officer.

“The first and most important thing is connectivity downtown,” she said.

Meyer said she prefers an electric trolley running on overhead wires or a fixed guideway.

Such a system would bring a clean-energy emphasis to Spokane and provide a new facet of urban character, she said.

A high-performance line “seems to be a mark of a progressive community,” she said.

Input is being gathered from across the community to develop a preferred alternative.

STA officials acknowledge that they are making plans for an addition to public transportation at the same time its board is considering a second round of service cuts.

“We are planning for the future while we are living within our means,” Meyer said.

Any new project would most likely be funded with voter approval of an increase in sales tax and would not be built until 2014 or later.

Property owners who would benefit from traffic along the line would also be asked to contribute, probably through property taxes.

“A system like this brings people to the door of a business,” Meyer said.

Having a completed alternatives analysis puts the city in line for federal funding for new and small transit projects, she said.

Beginning at Browne’s Addition and moving east to Gonzaga University, the route would likely use Pacific Avenue; Sprague or First Avenue; Post or Wall Street near the STA Plaza; Main or Riverside Avenue; Spokane Falls Boulevard; and Hamilton or Cincinnati Avenue at GU.

A spur line to the medical campuses on the lower South Hill is possible if the community is willing to spend more money.

Three options are on the table: enhanced buses that look like trolleys at $3 million to $5 million per mile; electric trolleys on fixed lines at $6 million to $9 million per mile; and an electric streetcar on rails at $34 million to $51 million per mile.

At 5 p.m. during the March 29 open house, Mayor Mary Verner will lead a short presentation with facilitators from different projects, including pedestrian and bike improvements, a redevelopment study along East Sprague Avenue, a vision study by Spokane Regional Transportation Council, the Complete Streets Coalition, and Spokane UCommute.

In addition to the open house, STA and the city are sponsoring an appearance by John Inglish, the general manager of Utah Transit Authority in Salt Lake City, a leader in developing transit alternatives.

He will speak at 3 p.m. March 30 in Council Chambers on the lower level of Spokane City Hall. The event is open to the public.

I-90 work begins in Valley

Work on widening and rebuilding Interstate 90 from Sullivan to Barker roads begins March 28, and slowdowns are expected. Delays should not be severe since two lanes of traffic will be kept open in each direction.

The project will last into the fall.

When completed, the new concrete surface will have three lanes in each direction instead of two.

A press release from the state Department of Transportation said drivers need to stay alert because travel will be on narrower lanes with narrow shoulders. Speed limits will also be reduced.

Acme Concrete Paving Co., of Spokane, was the low bidder on the $14.9 million contract.

Hartson Avenue closure

Hartson Avenue between Havana and Myrtle streets will be closed starting today as water main construction resumes.

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