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Spokane City Council drops push for transit vote

Last week’s decision by the Spokane Transit Authority board to place a transit improvement measure on the November ballot has caused the Spokane City Council to back down from its own pursuit of transit-improvement funding.

Councilwoman Amber Waldref, who also sits on the STA board, said in a statement last week that the STA-sponsored ballot measure resolves a Spokane City Council desire to give voters a second chance to approve funding for expanded transit service.

A year ago, voters narrowly rejected a measure to raise the sales tax by 0.3 percent to allow for a Central City Line, new transit centers, larger bus routes, and increased night and weekend bus service.

The ballot measure failed by 572 votes, largely because of opposition from suburban neighborhoods on the edge of STA’s service area. Support for the measure was strong in Spokane and West Plains communities.

On Thursday, the STA board voted 6-3 in favor of putting a revised measure on the ballot in November.

However, earlier opposition on the STA board to a second ballot measure this year caused the Spokane City Council to consider funding improvements with a city-only ballot measure.

That would have left outlying communities without proposed improvements.

On Thursday, board members from Cheney, Airway Heights and Liberty Lake joined County Commissioner Al French and Spokane City Councilwomen Amber Waldref and Candace Mumm in voting in favor of putting the measure on the ballot in November for the entire transit service area. The service area encompasses the urban portions of the county.

The smaller cities would see substantial transit improvements, including a new West Plains transit center, expansion of Liberty Lake’s transit services, and longer hours and routes systemwide.

Spokane could get a new rapid transit Central City Line running through downtown and connecting Browne’s Addition on the west to Spokane Community College to the northeast.

The Central City Line and West Plains transit center are eligible for substantial state and federal grants totaling $85 million.

Local money would go to operate those improvements if voters agree.

The measure in November asks for a 0.1 percent sales tax increase starting next April and another 0.1 sales tax increase in April 2019 to finance the improvements.

The taxes would expire at the end of 2028, in time for the presidential election that year. This year’s STA ballot measure also coincides with a presidential election, when voter turnout is at its peak.

Waldref said in a statement, “I do not believe there is a need for the City Council to pursue a city-only transit option at this time.”

“In January, the council voted to support a regional transit funding solution that would restore service that was lost during the recession and enhance service for most of the county, including many of the area’s small cities,” she said

Last week, the Spokane City Council passed a resolution allowing the city to potentially use sales tax and vehicle licensing fees for public transportation, Waldref said.

That resolution created flexibility so the city could pursue transit improvements on its own, she said.

Waldref said Thursday’s vote represents a compromise. It seeks a smaller sales tax increase than the 0.3 percent requested in 2015. It also delays implementation of the second 0.1 percent increase until April 2019.

The decision by the STA board to go to voters across the entire STA service area also preserves the unity of the transit system.

A city-only measure, if it had been put on the ballot and approved, would have created two tiers of service – one inside the city of Spokane and another outside of it.

The Spokane City Council’s willingness to go on its own ended up putting pressure on STA board members to put the revised STA measure on the ballot.

I-90 on-ramp closure extended

The closure of the eastbound on-ramp to Interstate 90 at Monroe Street is expected to continue until May 9.

Previously, the city had expected the ramp to reopen last Friday, but construction to lay pipes under the on-ramp access has taken longer than expected.

Monroe going up the lower South Hill remains closed for construction.

A detour is available on Lincoln Street.

Summer road jobs available

The Spokane County Road Department has some summer jobs available.

The department needs at least 40 workers to help with seasonal road work. The job pays $11.50 an hour.

To apply, go to the county’s website at spokanecounty.org and follow links to county employment and then the listing for “road construction seasonal apprentice.”

You must be at least 18, have a driver’s license and show that you have worked in physical labor for at least three months.

Mountain pass blasting resumes

Rock blasting on I-90 east of Snoqualmie Pass will resume this week with hourlong closures at 7 p.m. The blasting is part of a multiyear widening of the freeway.

Roundabout work begins

Work starts this week on a new roundabout at Freya Street and Wellesley Avenue east of the Hillyard neighborhood.


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