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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

City Hall Scoop: Plazas and Trolleys

The Spokane Transit Authority is its own government entity, but it got a good going over at last night's Spokane City Council meeting.

Two items passed by the council dealt with public conveyance: a resolution supporting the $5.8 million renovation of the STA Plaza, the downtown hub for public transportation; and a resolution supporting a trolley-like electric bus connecting Browne's Addition to Spokane Community College.

Both items had supporters, and both items found an enemy in George McGrath, who speaks at almost every council meeting during almost every public testimony. 

Read more after the jump.

To kick off discussion about the plaza renovation, Councilwoman Amber Waldref gave a brief discourse on the history of transit in Spokane, leading all the way to 2007, when it was decided to keep the plaza where it was for another generation. But recently, rumblings from downtown business interests have inspired ideas about moving the plaza from its current, central location.

"This is a pretty strong affirmation of the importance of the plaza," Councilman Jon Snyder said of the resolution. He said he was "dismayed" to hear the Downtown Spokane Partnership and Greater Spokane Incorporated asked for delays on renovating the plaza, even though the plans to do so have been in motion for more than a year. He said he hoped the council's support of updating the central hub would "put to rest" talk of moving it.

"We should take pride" in the plaza, he continued.

At the instigation of Council President Ben Stuckart, Karl Otterstrom, STA's director of planning, delivered a bevy of numbers about local ridership supporting the plaza's current location. Spokane buses see about 11.1 million rides a year in total. On an average weekday, 21,000 people get on or off a bus in downtown Spokane. 

McGrath would have none of it, and said the numbers about ridership were impossible to believe.

Next up was discussion of the Central City Line, STA's plan to run a trolley-like, fixed route transit line through downtown. The original plan already received official support from the council. Talk last night centered on expanding the line and looking into using newer, potentially cheaper technology to power the line. 

Originally slated to travel just a few miles from Browne's to Gonzaga University, now the line is intended to go through Gonzaga all the way to SCC, a total journey of almost six miles. And the trolley was to be powered by an overhead electrical system, but now STA is looking at other electric charging options, such as underground induction charging or a "fill up" charge at either end of the line.

Waldref called the project a "visionary concept," but added that funding has yet to be secured. The goal of the project is to find 80 percent of the funding through federal programs, and match that money with 20 percent local funds.

Councilman Mike Allen said his vote to support the resolution boiled down to "due diligence," adding that the project is nowhere near realization and could still be stopped if the funding is deemed inappropriate.

McGrath, again, was shocked by the discussion of public transit, which he deemed unrealistic, and recommended looking into hydrogen fuel.

Nicholas Deshais
Joined The Spokesman-Review in 2013. He is the urban issues reporter, covering transportation, housing, development and other issues affecting the city. He also writes the Getting There transportation column and The Dirt, a roundup of construction projects, new businesses and expansions. He previously covered Spokane City Hall.

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