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Getting There: Spokane urged to fight ‘ugly’ signs

Mary Tracy
Mary Tracy

The president of the Scenic America organization has a message for the Inland Northwest: Make your cities as beautiful as they can be.

Mary Tracy was in Spokane last week for the 15th annual National Alliance of Highway Beautification Agencies conference at the Davenport Hotel.

“I want the people of Spokane to know what a treasure they have in their city,” Tracy said during a break between sessions.

But residents should understand that there are forces within any community that threaten to change the scenery for the worse.

“Ugly can happen before we know it if we are not vigilant,” she said. “It’s worth fighting for your assets.”

Scenic America is known as an advocate for toning down signage along highways and arterials. It opposes billboards.

One study in Philadelphia showed that billboards can reduce the value of adjacent properties by as much as $31,000 each, she said.

Yet sign companies and merchants argue that having billboards and large signs is a right.

In North Carolina, the legislature recently adopted a law letting billboard owners cut down street trees in public rights-of-way if the trees are blocking billboards. Tree poisonings have also occurred across the country, she said.

Tracy said communities with strong sign controls are more attractive and more likely to attract new businesses and tourists. “People choose to live in places that are more attractive,” she said.

One prospective employer rejected Houston as a site for a new location after seeing that city’s sign clutter, Tracy said.

Signs have a way of escalating in size as merchants compete for attention, but larger signs don’t necessarily bring more customers, she said.

She called the newer, lighted billboards “TVs on sticks.”

“It’s a contest for ugly,” she said.

44th Avenue project gets city leaders’ OK

Spokane city engineers believe they may have solved a long-standing debate over building a through route on 44th Avenue between Freya and Regal streets.

The City Council on Monday approved a $621,000 contract to build a 27-foot-wide collector arterial that will gently wind between Regal and Freya and will have an adjoining pedestrian path.

The curved, narrow route is intended to slow traffic.

Plans to turn 44th into an arterial have met community resistance over the years.

Multifamily housing in the area is creating a need for the street. A housing developer is contributing to the construction, which has reduced the cost to the city, engineers said.

State seeks counters of bicyclists, walkers

The Washington State Department of Transportation is seeking more than 300 volunteers to help count the number of people who walk or ride bikes to their destinations.

Organizations such as FeetFirst and the Bicycle Alliance of Washington are participating in the fifth annual count Sept. 25 through 27. At least 35 cities will be represented. The data will become part of a national project.

To sign up, go to the department’s bicycling Web page at Count.htm.

Metaline Falls will host celebration

Metaline Falls is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the closing of the city’s cement plant on Saturday and Sunday.

A new visitor center that includes an old rail car will be dedicated at 10 a.m. Saturday as part of the Affair on Mainstreet, a family-oriented celebration.

Another corridor leg should open soon

The southbound lanes of the North Spokane Corridor between Farwell Road and the Freya Street interchange should be open soon, if not already, as crews finish the construction that was made possible by a $35 million federal economic stimulus grant.

Northbound traffic will continue to operate on a single lane from Freya to Farwell while crews restripe that portion of the road, which had been carrying two-way traffic until now.

Highway fund gets cash infusion

A new highway bill approved by Congress transferred $18 billion into the highway trust fund, extending the solvency of the highway fund through at least 2014. The fund had been under financial pressure from slower gas tax collections and existing funding obligations.

The renewed solvency was achieved through changes in federal employee pension plans and a $3 billion transfer out of a program for getting rid of leaky storage tanks.

BNSF disputes coal estimate

BNSF Railway officials last week said that a report last month on coal shipments prepared for the Western Organization of Resource Councils made some faulty assumptions in calculating how much coal might be shipped by rail through Spokane.

Suann Lundsberg, BNSF spokeswoman, said Powder River Basin coal is shipped in a 50-50 split between BNSF and Union Pacific, while the report said that BNSF would ship the “lion’s share” of the coal. BNSF coal trains pass through Sandpoint and Spokane on their way to Northwest ports for shipment to Asia. They are already a common sight here.

The resource councils estimated that the line from Sandpoint to Spokane could see 28 coal trains a day by 2017 and 63 trains a day by 2022. That includes both loaded and empty trains.