The current design for connecting the long-elusive North Spokane Corridor to Interstate 90 has some local leaders worried that traffic congestion would grow worse in east Spokane neighborhoods.
The Spokane City Council last week asked the state Transportation Department to reconsider its plans calling for removal of an on-ramp and off-ramp from Interstate 90’s Altamont Street exit. The design for the proposed corridor project removes the ramps as a way to most efficiently move traffic along I-90, but neighborhood leaders say it could reroute traffic in a way that threatens development.
Councilwoman Amber Waldref, whose district includes the corridor, said the removal of ramps at Altamont would clog Spokane’s four other four-way freeway interchanges and create an inconvenience for those who want access to East Sprague and the east University District.
“I think the major concern that I and others have is reducing access to industry and commerce,” Waldref said. “This will definitely add congestion to our arterials and interchanges.”
Keith Metcalf, regional administrator for the Washington state Department of Transportation, is meeting with city leaders to discuss options. Metcalf emphasized he is open to ideas and would be willing to develop predicted congestion levels if the Altamont ramps are left intact.
Ultimately, he said, the highway project planners must strike a balance between where traffic is desired and where it is not.
“The more ramps you have, the more congestion potentially you have (on I-90) because of merging traffic,” he said. “Everybody wants a ramp where they want to go, but anybody on the highway doesn’t want any ramps. That’s the fine line we’re walking.”
Jerry Numbers, chair of the East Central Neighborhood Council, said he has been pushing the city for years to raise the neighborhood’s concerns over the corridor plan. “We’ve always objected to this,” Numbers said. “It totally isolates our business district.”
Numbers remembers how the completion of I-90 in the 1960s devastated the East Central neighborhood, effectively splitting it in half and sending it “into a skid” of vacant and low-income housing.
If the Altamont ramps were to be removed and access restricted once more, he fears it could jeopardize 40 years of revitalization efforts.
“To be blocked off is not healthy for the neighborhood,” he said. “That shouldn’t happen because you want to get trucks through town fast.”
Currently, 5.7 miles of the corridor – to the intersection of East Francis Avenue and North Freya Street – are open to traffic. The state has not come up with $750 million needed to connect the north Spokane freeway to I-90. About $615 million, or 44 percent of the estimated $1.4 billion total cost, has been allocated so far. Funding for the project is still unclear as state legislators have failed to agree on how to pay for large transportation projects, including the North Spokane Corridor, for the past two years.