State highway officials have designed it and bought property for it.
On Wednesday, they threw a big groundbreaking ceremony to mark the start of a $3.5 million grading job on it.
What they haven’t done is find a reliable way to finance the $1 billion cost of the North Spokane Corridor, which will eventually link Interstate 90 with U.S. Highway 395 at Wandermere.
Several hundred people showed up for the groundbreaking in a field near Mead. Northbound traffic will someday run through the spot where they erected a temporary stage.
Dignitary after dignitary took to the microphone to extol the virtues of a high-speed alternative to stop-and-go driving through North Spokane.
“This is a great day for our community, our region and our future,” said Spokane Mayor John Powers.
Secretary of Transportation Doug McDonald played the crowd like a fund-raiser at a political soiree.
He called out the names of Spokane’s legislative delegation and asked them to come up front to be recognized.
Before him in bright yellow T-shirts were dozens of members of the Associated General Contractors organization.
“Come on AGC, you gotta work these guys,” he told the contractors, urging them to lobby lawmakers for more funding for the project.
“We’re talking the money team here,” McDonald said.
They are the same state lawmakers who spent several weeks in Olympia this summer working on a failed attempt to boost road construction with higher taxes.
Under current funding, the North Spokane Corridor is receiving $57 million over four years.
At that pace, the project would take 70 years to complete.
But now that construction is officially under way, highway officials believe the project will gather more support for funding in Olympia and Washington, D.C., and reduce construction time to between 10 and 20 years.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is currently seeking an additional $7 million for the highway in the next federal transportation budget.
U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, R- Spokane, promised the groundbreaking crowd he would work to “keep the money flowing.”
Highway engineers have divided the project into nine segments, with each segment having several elements.
In doing so, they say they can fit construction to the money as it’s approved.
The first segment involves construction of a four-lane divided highway between Hawthorne Road and U.S. Highway 2. It will include parts of the planned interchanges at Parksmith Road and U.S. 2.
The second segment takes the highway north and west to its tie-in with U.S. 395 at Wandermere.
Plans call for dropping the U.S. 2 roadway some 30 feet so the new highway can pass over it at ground level. The interchange at U.S. 2 will also include ramps for Farwell Road.
Engineers are still working on designs for the highway south of the Spokane River. When completed, the 10.4-mile route will become U.S. 395 through Spokane.
On Wednesday afternoon, project engineers found themselves in the hot seat before the city Plan Commission, explaining a controversial proposal to build a new access to I-90 off Perry Street on the South Hill.
Neighbors and business owners fear the plan would turn the street into a clogged four-lane arterial as it passes through a pedestrian-friendly commercial area and near Grant Elementary School.
Preliminary designs call for an elevated highway south of the Spokane River, and an eight-lane collector-distributor roadway system along both sides of I-90 through the East Central neighborhood.
Final design for the highway south of the river is still under discussion with community members and won’t be decided for one to two years.
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