The Spokane metropolitan area has the usual big-city traffic problems, but it doesn’t deploy many of the advanced strategies along its lone freeway.
But that is likely to change, as the state looks for ways to ease congestion on Interstate 90 from the Four Lakes area to the Idaho border.
A trip from one end to the other takes 30 minutes when traffic is moving smoothly. But during peak hours, it takes about 36 minutes. That’s about a two-minute increase from the last time it was studied (2012-15). Congestion outside of peak hours is also on the rise, and both circumstances have led to an increase in crashes, particularly in the stretch from the U.S. 2 interchange to the Broadway interchange.
Anyone who drives that stretch has experienced the slowdowns and witnessed the accidents. Maybe you’ve even been in one. Crashes increased 22 percent between 2011 and 2015. There’s one almost every day. The lane closures from orange cones and tow trucks is frustrating and can lead to even more collisions.
State transportation officials are asking the public to come up with ideas for easing freeway traffic jams. If you have any, share them at an open house on Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. at the East Central Community Center gym, 500 S. Stone St.
We have one. Late-afternoon commuters from downtown would benefit from roadside warnings about current freeway conditions and estimated travel times before they get to the on-ramps. Drivers with short commutes and other options could stick to surface streets, which would ease congestion for longer-distance drivers.
As it is, drivers often don’t know the elevated freeway is clogged until it’s too late. Then they’re part of the problem.
That kind of traffic management is common in bigger cities, and it could be headed our way, according to an operations report on the Washington state Department of Transportation’s website.
There are many recommendations. Among them:
More overhead signs to alert drivers to accidents, construction zones and poor weather conditions, so they’ll be prepared. They could even choose to exit the freeway and try another route.
Metered ramps, where traffic lights would be installed to control the flow of cars merging onto the freeway. Ramps could be temporarily closed if warranted.
A more efficient method of dispatching tow trucks and clearing accidents.
Redesigning some downtown intersections near off-ramps to reduce long lines of cars that back up to the freeway.
If you’ve been to larger cities, you’ve seen many of these ideas employed. It doesn’t end traffic, but it does make driving safer and less frustrating.
Spokane has grown considerably since 1974, when I-90 was opened. It’s good to see that traffic-control measures may soon be implemented to reflect that reality.