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Inslee takes a Spokane bus ride to celebrate transit funding

Gov. Jay Inslee unveils a construction sign for new transportation projects on Friday, Jan. 29, 2016, in the SIERR Building at McKinstry Station in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gov. Jay Inslee unveils a construction sign for new transportation projects on Friday, Jan. 29, 2016, in the SIERR Building at McKinstry Station in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee took the bus to his afternoon appearance in Spokane on Friday, and shared with his fellow riders how pleased he is that lawmakers approved an $11 billion transportation funding package last year.

It was a victory lap of sorts. The governor was in Spokane to proclaim the benefits to the region of the new funding.

Inslee and others boarded a 40-foot Spokane Transportation Authority diesel-electric coach and traveled a portion of the proposed route for a Central City Line that is being sought by STA and is eligible for some of the money.

During the short ride, Inslee was briefed on four major projects being funded through the Connecting Washington package and its gasoline tax increases, including the Central City Line.

“This is the best free bus ride I have been on,” Inslee told the group.

He said the projects approved for Spokane demonstrate just how important transportation is for Washington.

“If you look at Spokane, you will see why this is a good package,” he said.

Inslee pointed out the spending will improve multiple types of transportation, from pedestrian travel to shipping of Columbia Basin grain by rail.

The largest project under Connecting Washington is the $879 million completion of the North Spokane Corridor from Hillyard to Interstate 90. The phased right-of-way acquisition and construction should be completed by 2027.

The other two major projects in Spokane are $45 million in improvements to the Palouse & Coulee City feeder rail line, which is owned by the state; and $8.8 million for a University District Gateway Bridge for pedestrians and bicycles.

The bridge will span the BNSF Railway mainline and connect the Sprague Avenue area with the University District campus.

The bridge should be finished by 2018, said Spokane City Councilwoman Amber Waldref.

The STA coach with the governor aboard departed the downtown STA Plaza shortly before 2 p.m. with security officers watching.

It ran eastward down Main Avenue to the University District and arrived at the SIERR Building, a former rail maintenance shop that was converted to offices and public space by the McKinstry engineering firm.

Inslee and other passengers got off there for a short appearance by the governor, who unveiled samples of four Connecting Washington signs that will go up at the major project sites.

Inslee noted the state’s investment in transportation will yield economic development benefits in the long run.

He said adoption of the package and the funding for Spokane was won through the leadership of Spokane officials, including its legislators.

“You were tenacious,” he told the gathering that included those officials.

“I’m glad we persevered to get this done.”

The Connecting Washington package will support 200,000 jobs, the governor said.

That number includes workers for an extension of Sound Transit, which was a separate authorization approved last year.

To pay for improvements, the state share of the gasoline tax was increased by 7 cents last August and will go up another 4.9 cents on July 1.

The Central City Line from Browne’s Addition through downtown to the University District, Gonzaga University and Spokane Community College is in line to get $15 million in state funds from the package.

That will be used to match federal funds for the entire $70 million construction cost.

However, local voters would have to approve a measure to pay for ongoing operation and other STA improvements.

Voters narrowly rejected a 0.3 percent sales tax increase in April, and supporters are pushing for another ballot measure in November.


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