More than 500 homes and 115 businesses many of them in one of Spokane’s poorest and most ethnically diverse neighborhood would be razed or moved if engineers ever get the money to build the North Spokane Freeway.
And quiet, rural areas in northeastern Washington would become more crowded as commuting to Spokane becomes easier. The economies of Pend Oreille, Ferry and Stevens counties would improve, as would trade with Canada.
Those are some of the conclusions of a $3 million study of the freeway that has been discussed for 51 years.
The recently released study was written over six years by a team of city, county and state officials, led by the state Department of Transportation.
The study suggests building the freeway just east of Market Street, through the city’s East-Central, Chief Garry and Hillyard neighborhoods.
Of the routes studied, that one would move the most traffic while causing the least disruption, the study says.
The eight-lane freeway would run 10 miles, from Interstate 90 on the south to U.S. Highway 2 near the Wandermere Golf Course. It would require 20 years to build. Taking inflation into account, the cost is estimated at $2.1 billion - more than any road project in state history.
The project was affirmed in a 1973 advisory vote and gets strong support every time it’s mentioned on a poll in Spokane County. Still, there’s no certain source for the money. Not even close.
The state sets aside about $23 million each year for major road projects. Advocates hope the Legislature will dip into that account next year to provide at least $2 million for freeway design.
Building the first phase, between U.S. Highways 2 and 395 on the North Side, would cost about $30 million.
“We’re hoping people will look at this (study) and say the time is now,” said project engineer Harold White.
Building the freeway would mean big changes in the city’s East-Central neighborhood, where minorities comprise about 19 percent of the population and 29 percent of residents live in poverty.
The state report estimates that 1,050 East-Central residents would have to move, along with two churches, a day-care center and 59 other businesses.
The state would buy the houses and provide “housing of last resort,” if necessary. That includes building or buying new houses, renovating old houses, or guaranteeing loans for people with little money or bad credit.
Such steps may not be necessary, said White.
“It appears there would be enough (vacant) houses available within the East-Central neighborhood,” he said, adding that the state could buy much of the land as it went on the market, limiting upheaval in the neighborhood.
The Rev. Paul Rodkey, whose Bethany Presbyterian Church would have to relocate, sees the freeway as a necessity.
The real harm to East-Central came when I-90 split the neighborhood, rather than going farther south as some had proposed, Rodkey said. That decision leaves engineers with little choice but to route the north-south freeway through the neighborhood, he said.
“Mistakes were made in the 1950s and ‘60s - big, big mistakes - and now we have to deal with that,” said Rodkey, a lifelong Spokane resident who’s led the church for 10 years.
The freeway probably would bring more customers to Dick Noble, a Realtor in Newport, Wash.
A good share of Pend Oreille County’s 11,100 residents already commute to the city, Noble said. More Spokane workers would build or buy country homes if there was an easy way to avoid traffic jams at Spokane’s North Division “Y,” he predicted.
“There’s obviously a segment (of the rural population) - like Realtors - who would like to see that growth,” Noble said. “There is a segment - the status-quo people - who would not like it.”
The Transportation Department predicts the freeway would drive development along U.S. Highway 395, from Deer Park to the Canadian border.
“The proposed corridor will accommodate truckers and commerce, as well as pleasure motorists,” the authors wrote. “The project enhances the objectives of NAFTA - the North American Free Trade Agreement.”
Among the report’s other conclusions:
Vehicle emissions will decrease 3.6 percent in Spokane if the freeway is built. Cars generally pollute more when traffic is slower and more congested.
The freeway would save more than 1 million gallons of fuel each year.
Without the freeway, traffic on I-90 in the Valley will increase from 90,000 cars a day to a projected 196,000 cars in 2020. Many of those commuters would move to the North Side, rather than the Valley or North Idaho, if the freeway is built.
It would cost $40.7 million to investigate and clean up 62 known or suspected hazardous waste sites in the freeway’s path.
The government would try to find the companies responsible for the contamination, and hold them responsible for cleanup costs, said White.
Unless regulations change, freeway builders would need at least 10 types of permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority, and the state departments of ecology, natural resources, and fish and wildlife.
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