Local government officials in Spokane County say the region needs about $20 million a year in additional funding to keep up with road and highway needs.
They are proposing the creation of a countywide transportation benefit area that could levy new taxes or fees to raise the money locally, with some of that money going to leverage larger state and federal grants.
Spokane Mayor Mary Verner and county commissioners Todd Mielke and Mark Richard are leading an effort to organize an equitable system for distributing any new funding.
They said voters would have the final say on any increases in taxes or vehicle fees.
A registration tab fee of $45 a year on vehicles up to 6,000 pounds would yield up to $24 million a year.
Currently, the proponents are doing the legwork on building a consensus among agencies.
They said state and federal transportation departments are likely going to require local governments to increase their matching share for larger projects such as completion of the North Spokane Corridor or construction of overpasses on Spokane Valley rail lines.
A public opinion survey commissioned by the Spokane Area Good Roads Association shows modest support for the transportation benefit area, they said.
Of the 300 people surveyed, 72 percent said they support a regional approach to transportation, while 57 percent said they would support new fees or taxes, but only if they could be assured that the money would go for specific local projects.
“That poll clearly shows that transportation is on the minds of the community,” Verner said during a meeting last week with The Spokesman-Review editorial board.
“It is a huge priority for us.”
Under state law, transportation benefit areas can be created by cities or the county individually or by a region within a county. City councils have control over the question within their boundaries.
Verner said she wants to seek cooperation of the various cities to provide a regional approach, which would create a funding pool for large projects with economic benefit to the entire area.
Under the proposal, 30 percent of any money that is raised – about $6 million to $7 million a year – would be allocated for regionally significant projects.
The other 70 percent would go to each jurisdiction on a proportional basis for maintenance and construction.
The Spokane Regional Transportation Council would oversee the program.
Two advisory boards, including one made up of citizens, would help establish priorities.
The cities and county would base their spending on six-year street plans that must be updated each year under state law.
The transit benefit area would replace an earlier proposal by Spokane city officials to form a street utility fund.
“My job is to build a coalition to get this thing through,” Mielke said.
However, it may be months before a proposal is ready for the ballot.
Meeting will address Highway 195 safety
State and local agencies are working on a plan to improve safety along U.S. Highway 195 from Interstate 90 to Hatch Road.
A public meeting is scheduled for Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 5810 Meadowlane Road, to take comment on developing the plan for a traffic safety corridor.
In the past three years, that stretch of highway has seen 145 accidents – about one a week – including three fatalities and five serious injury accidents.
The highway carries about 18,000 vehicles a day.
The plan seeks lower-cost measures, such as signage and stepped-up enforcement, to improve safety.
Installation complete on crosswalk lights
The city of Spokane has finished installation of 132 new crosswalk signals that display a countdown showing how long until the traffic lights change from green to red.
The light-emitting diode signs were built by Dialight, of Farmingdale, N.J., and obtained under a $100,000 federal grant.
Installations are along Third Avenue from Division to Maple streets and Second and Fourth avenues at Maple and Walnut streets.
The federal government is requiring that the countdown signals be used when older crosswalk signals are replaced, according to a news release from Dialight.
Work to watch for
• Crews will be cleaning drains this week along I-90 from Division to Argonne Road, which will cause left lane closures between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
• Repaving and sidewalk installations on Division and U.S. Highway 395 from the Y to the Stevens County line near Clayton is finished, the state reported last week.
• Beginning Monday and lasting for about a month, the intersection of South Riverton Avenue and Altamont Street will be closed for storm sewer work. Also, Riverton from Cook to Stone streets and Altamont from Marshall Avenue to the alley will be closed to accommodate the work. The city of Spokane suggests Marshall as an alternate route.
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