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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Valley corridor traffic to decline?

The Spokesman-Review

As forecasters, modern traffic engineers and urban planners have it all over the ancient seers who used to read chicken entrails, but those who foresee falling traffic volumes along the Sprague-Appleway corridor in the Spokane Valley need to shift into neutral.

The Spokane Regional Transportation Council has predicted that traffic along Sprague will decline by almost half in the next 20 years, from 1,400 vehicles an hour to 800.

That would be remarkable in the middle of the infill region between Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. But it will be unforgivable if those expectations result in inadequate transportation capacity during a time of growth.

The SRTC findings led to a conclusion that the 2.7-mile couplet that now goes from the Sprague Avenue freeway interchange to University doesn’t have to be extended all the way east to the Evergreen interchange. The state has set aside $4.2 million toward the $7 million extension, but those funds could be withheld if the SRTC disapproves.

Nobody wants to spend public funds needlessly, but a growing area shouldn’t have to face the prospect of stifling congestion if the forecasts are wrong.

Let’s look 20 years back instead of 20 years ahead. In 1985, Spokane County officials agreed that the Spokane Valley Mall could be constructed and opened before a freeway interchange was built at Evergreen. They believed existing thoroughfares, primarily Sullivan Road, would be adequate.

But by 1997, as the mall was about to open under precisely those circumstances, Regional Director Jerry Lenzi of the Washington state Department of Transportation was predicting his office would be flooded with hate calls, so greatly had traffic demands exceeded earlier projections.

In a survey taken last spring, 69 percent of 400 Spokane Valley residents polled said the current couplet had made transportation better in their city. More than half favored extending it to Evergreen.

The miscalculations that influenced the county’s naïve expectations in 1985 are but one example of growth and traffic predictions that have proved faulty. When the cloudy image in the crystal ball conflicts with common sense – the notion, say, that traffic on a heavily used and popular corridor would decline dramatically in the next two decades – it needs to be tested very carefully before it’s allowed to hamper responsible preparation for the future.

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