Last October, politicians from both major parties showed up to celebrate the completion of the northern half of the North Spokane Corridor, from U.S. 395 near Wandermere to the Freya Street roundabouts, just north of Francis Avenue. This 5.7-mile stretch took 12 years to build, not counting the five decades spent looking for funding.
Basking in the reflected glory were U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Spokane County GOP Commissioner Todd Mielke and then-state Rep. Andy Billig, who were running for office. They took turns proclaiming the importance of the project.
It is a nice stretch of road. No question. Easy to drive, too, because so few cars and trucks are on it.
That would change dramatically if the rest of the 10.5-mile-long project could get built. Even completing the 3-mile stretch from Francis to the Spokane River, near Trent Avenue, would make it much more useful. The money for that could have been secured in the just-completed overtime session of the state Legislature, but the Senate majority coalition wasn’t interested in taking a tough vote for increased funding.
Under the $10 billion transportation plan passed by the House, the North Spokane Corridor would have received an additional $480 million, more than enough to build the corridor to the river. But it would have taken a phased-in 10.5 cent per gallon tax increase to finance it, along with several other projects around the state that are vital to commerce now and into the future.
Needs more study, said Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who headed the intransigent coalition of Republicans and Democrats. This is a typical excuse for politicians who don’t want to lead on tough issues. The Legislature already commissioned a long-range financing plan that was completed in 2010, and any lawmaker who has read it knows the state will need new revenue for vital projects. It’s just a matter of when they’ll have the courage to put it to a vote.
Without a revenue infusion, the North Spokane Corridor will remain a road to nowhere for a long time. It is, however, a nifty training ground for student drivers, though extremely overpriced for this purpose. It’s also a place to teach them how public projects get built.
Previous increases in the gasoline tax contributed to what’s been completed thus far, but that spending will be wasted if the project isn’t completed, and it needs another $1.3 billion. Once finished, a trip from Wandermere to I-90 will take 12 minutes, and most of the trucks that clog the too-narrow streets of Freya, Greene, Market, Hamilton, Nevada and others will vanish, easing congestion.
After six months and two overtime sessions, the Legislature had plenty of time to find compromises and reach a deal. But Senate Transportation Committee Co-Chair Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, said the majority coalition never seriously considered new revenue, despite pressure from business and labor interests.
The feds aren’t going to rescue state transportation projects. Magical solutions will not materialize. Failing to face up this time just added to the overall cost. Nobody should be celebrating.