An amendment by Rep. Matt Shea to the state Senate transportation budget could put a long-sought bridge in Spokane Valley in jeopardy.
Shea, R-Spokane Valley, added an amendment to the budget on Feb. 27 that specifies state money can’t be spent for planning or constructing a roundabout on Trent Avenue as part of the project to build an overpass at Barker Road and the BNSF railroad tracks.
The transportation budget has yet to be reconciled between the House and Senate.
The project to build an overpass Barker Road at the BNSF tracks – which will cost more than $19 million to construct – relies on $3.6 million in funding from the city and $11.5 million in state funds that are pending legislative approval.
The city has three grants outstanding to complete the remaining cost of more than $3 million.
City officials on Jan. 30 discussed six options to separate the tracks from the road and opted to move forward with a design that includes a roundabout northeast of the intersection with a BNSF overpass near Barker Road and Trent Avenue.
Councilman Arne Woodard said the city received legislative support and funding in the state capital budget to design the Barker Road intersection. There were no strings attached to the recommended grant funds, except they had to be used by 2020.
“If (the amendment) goes through in this budget, the project is dead,” Woodard said.
Shea said he added the amendment after concerns from residents were brought forward through email and a recent telephone town hall meeting with Valley legislators about placing a two-lane roundabout on a four-lane highway.
Shea said the amendment doesn’t completely eliminate state funding for the project, but clarifies how the funds can be used, adding that 4th district legislators have been in favor of the project.
He said it’s important to balance cost and safety with the project, especially because it is near schools.
“We’ve been talking about this for a very long time with Spokane Valley,” he said. “We brought it up in December with council, and we continued to ask questions and gather information to figure out how to move forward.”
Councilwoman Linda Thompson said a surprise move made at the state level is not a way to move the project forward, especially with the lengthy discussions on funding and design alternatives between city officials and the public.
“It’s frustrating when we try to have an open, community-involved process, and all of a sudden there’s a change from leadership in another sector, and it’s coming from a different direction than what we were planning,” she said.
The city previously considered a diamond interchange at Barker Road – which was proposed in the 2006 Bridging the Valley project – but the $36 million cost made it difficult to secure grant funding. The design lacked support from the state transportation department and Spokane County. The City Council subsequently voted down the interchange design in 2017.
The city’s consultants, David Evans & Associates, conducted an intersection control analysis for the proposed option with a roundabout at Trent Avenue and stated it was the safest alternative. The state agreed with that decision, said Al Gilson, spokesman for the state transportation department.
Woodard said a roundabout may slow down traffic by a couple of minutes, but it would be a solution to improve the level of service at the intersection.
Councilman Ben Wick said state transportation officials don’t want to allow anything but a roundabout at the intersection, and if the city were to choose the diamond interchange concept at Barker Road, the city’s consultants said it would now cost more than $41 million.
Wick said the intersection improvements are much needed at Barker and Trent, especially with Katerra constructing its cross-laminated timber facility in the nearby industrial area.
“I’m still hopeful we can continue with the project,” he said. “I appreciate support from our legislators with funding, but we definitely want to see this project move forward.”
Thompson said she’s also hopeful the project can still happen because it’s critical for not only safety and moving traffic, but also to support business and transportation needs.
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said the language in the transportation budget isn’t final and legislators still are meeting with local officials trying to work on the details of the funding for the project.
“I think we are going to work this out,” Padden said.
The City Council will hold a special meeting at 3 p.m. Friday to discuss options on how to move the project forward.
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