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Mixed-use trail on old rail line discussed

STA, county have interest in strip of land for other potential uses

Spokane County and the city of Spokane Valley are in preliminary discussions to use the old Milwaukee Railroad right-of-way for a mixed-use trail.

The strip of land running through Spokane Valley is still owned by Spokane County and has been the topic of many discussions over the years. At one point the city wanted to use the land to extend Appleway Boulevard east from University Road, but the county didn’t want to part with the land without being paid and the city was unwilling to pay for it. The Spokane Transit Authority has also been discussing for years the idea of putting a light rail system on the land.

“We’re stuck in the middle with an eyesore,” said Mayor Tom Towey at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

The county indicated it was receptive to the idea of a trail during a recent joint meeting with the City Council and the county commissioners, said Public Works Director Neil Kersten. “They’re open to the discussion,” he said. The key point is that the county and STA still want to keep the corridor open for future use, whether that is light rail or a road.

Kersten suggested building a trail that isn’t “as high end or as permanent” since it may have to make way for another project at some point in the future.

“I would envision that you would have a shared-use path,” said Councilman Dean Grafos. He suggested doing a simple, low cost trail in phases. The first phase could be from University to Pines Road, he said. “We could probably get donations from a lot of the asphalt companies,” he said. “I think it would be a great asset to our community.”

The trail could also be made of gravel, Kersten said, but the city would have to clean up the right-of-way first. “There’s a lot of junk, rubble, stuff that needs to be cleaned up,” he said.

Towey cautioned the council against getting too excited about the project now. “We forget we don’t own it,” he said. “There is a danger or risk of getting ahead of ourselves.”

Kersten said city staff would not move forward with the project until the city has possession of the right-of-way or an easement across it for the trail. The details, including how to pay for the trail, would be worked out after an agreement is reached with Spokane County and STA. “I think this won’t move real fast,” he said. “We’ll keep pushing on it.”

In other business, the council discussed the speed limit Indiana Parkway and Mission Parkway, the new one-way sections of road that extended Indiana Avenue east to Flora Road. After a previous motion to set the speed limit at 35 miles per hour failed, the road went to the default speed limit of 25 mph. The speed limit to the east and to the west of the new section is set at 35 mph.

Councilman Arne Woodard, who was against setting the speed limit to 35, said he would agree to make it 30 mph on the one-way sections of the new road and keep the 35 mph limit on either side. “I think that’s a good compromise,” said Councilwoman Brenda Grassel.

The city has received more than 100 complaint letters about the speed limit on the new road and most ask for the limit to be raised to 35, said Councilman Bill Gothmann. “The road was built for 35,” he said. “That’s what the businesses are recommending, so let’s do it.” People will naturally slow down to enter the roundabout at Mission and Flora, he said. “Nobody is going to go 35 through a roundabout.”

Police officers have written a fair number of citations for speeding on the new road, said Spokane Valley police Chief Rick Van Leuven. “We have been monitoring it quite a bit,” he said. He consulted with his traffic enforcement officers and they believe a 35 mph speed limit would be reasonable, Van Leuven said.

There was also a discussion on moving toward statutory speed limits, which would set a uniform speed limit for all arterials. Woodard said he was in favor of the idea. “I really think we need to reduce the speed limits generally,” he said.

Grassel suggested having one speed limit for residential streets, one for minor arterials and one for major arterials like Sullivan Road and Sprague Avenue. “That would be pretty close to what Spokane does,” said traffic engineer Inga Note.

The council agreed to have the staff prepare a motion to change the speed limit on Indiana Parkway and Mission Parkway and to discuss statutory speed limits in more detail at a later date.

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