When it comes to building highways in Spokane, no neighborhood has borne more pavement than East Central.
More than 1,000 houses in Spokane were leveled to make way for the transcontinental Interstate 90. A similar fate awaits homes along the route of the North Spokane Corridor, a highway envisioned for 60 years that just won funding earlier this year from the state Legislature. State officials have said in total 400 homes will be demolished to make way for the freeway.
But a small, nearly forgotten dirt road that will soon be paved and serve not only cars, but also walkers and cyclists, has neighborhood officials cheering, saying it’s a small push in the right direction. Where for decades East Central has been sliced by roads into nearly un-navigable islands, now a road will connect it directly to the city’s core.
Last week, the Spokane City Council accepted a low bid of $575,000 from Halme Construction to pave and improve Erie Street from First Avenue to the future Martin Luther King Jr. Way, which runs through downtown Spokane’s University District. In August, the city purchased three properties from BNSF Railway along MLK Jr. Way’s route for $194,000, providing the right-of-way needed to build the road from the U-District to Erie.
“The thing that’s been important to East Central is connectivity,” said Joy Hart, chairwoman of the East Central Neighborhood Council. “For decades, I-90 has divided our neighborhood. Right now we have Napa and Altamont to get across (the highway), but we don’t know what it’s going to look like once the corridor goes through.”
Erie, an unpaved road that dives underneath I-90, through a rail viaduct, and by the Union Gospel Mission, has been little used in recent times. Hart said paving it could do wonders.
“Dirt roads that are not being used are not good places. For a number of reasons,” she said. “Anytime that we can put in pavement and make it a better and more friendly place to be, that’s a good thing.”
Jim Hanley, who has lived in the neighborhood since before I-90’s construction and helped found the East Spokane Business Association, said connecting East Sprague with the U-District will help people realize that East Sprague Avenue is a “nice part of town.”
Hanley, who co-owns the Tin Roof on East Sprague, added that the Erie route has transformed over the years, and its latest incarnation will be used by cars, bicycles and pedestrians.
“That used to be the trolley railroad path. It crossed the river, and where the McKinstry building is was the maintenance shop,” Hanley said, mentioning the building on the north side of the river that served as the repair shop for the Spokane and Inland Empire Railroad.
The newly paved stretch of Erie will be joined this fall by the Ben Burr Trail, which will run directly next to it. Though neighbors have been critical of lengthening, widening and paving the neighborhood path, saying it will ruin its character, Hanley looks on the bright side.
“You’ll be able to ride off the South Hill, go by that part of Sprague, underneath the bridge and go right into campus,” Hanley said. “I think with the campus there, and that includes Gonzaga, this is another connectivity point from the South Hill and East Central to downtown. We’ve been working on this for at least 10 years and I think it’s great.”
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