By early next year, nine electronic signs will warn drivers about traffic jams along three main routes in Spokane.
Like signs that are common along freeways in urban areas, the displays will recommend alternative routes when accidents or construction cause backups.
The signs have been planned for years, but they were approved this week without much enthusiasm by the Spokane City Council when it voted 5-2 for a $1.6 million contract with Colvico Inc. All but 13 percent of the money is covered by a federal grant.
Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart and Councilman Jon Snyder opposed the contract. They argue that the federal grant, which is aimed at improving air quality, would be better spent on improving bus or mass transit options, building bike lanes or redesigning streets to encourage pedestrian travel.
“It’s more of a protest vote to let them know it’s not a good use of (the federal grant),” Stuckart said after the vote.
But Councilman Mike Allen said the signs likely will improve motorists’ drives.
“Without completion of the north-south freeway anytime soon, the more information we can get our drivers, the better off they are so they don’t get caught in congestion,” Allen said.
City Engineer Mike Taylor said transportation planners have found that signs can make a significant improvement in congestion by helping motorists avoid construction and accidents.
Snyder argued that technology is evolving fast and that motorists could soon be informed of impending traffic problems by their cars.
The project was selected by the Spokane Regional Transportation Council, which has the final say on disbursement of some federal and state transportation funding.
The region gets about $3.5 million a year of federal money aimed at reducing congestion and improving air quality, said Kevin Wallace, executive director of the transportation council, which approved the city’s use of the grant for the “dynamic messaging signs” in 2008.
Wallace said if the City Council had rejected the signs, the money wouldn’t necessarily be used for a project within the city of Spokane.
Councilwoman Amber Waldref said she agreed to the expense because it was well-vetted by previous city and regional leaders.
“I have confidence that moving forward that we’ll be investing these dollars in much more effective ways,” she said.