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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Groups propose plans for abandoned rail line

A proposed bicycle-pedestrian trail through Spokane Valley has given Cinderella slippers to a little-known, county-owned railroad right of way.

For years, Spokane County’s Great Northern right of way has taken a back seat to its better-known Milwaukee Road corridor.

The abandoned rail lines have been unequal since the county acquired them. The Milwaukee Road cost $3.4 million in 1980, but the parallel Great Northern fetched only $1,500 in 1991.

Talk of a light rail line from Spokane to Liberty Lake, an ownership dispute and possible extension of Appleway Boulevard have kept the Milwaukee Road in the limelight.

Now a flurry of interest is giving the Great Northern a chance to shine.

Not only do two cities want to use it for a pathway, Avista wants to put a high-voltage electric line along it and the Spokane County Utilities Department wants to put a reclaimed-water pipe under it.

“Two and a half years ago, we didn’t have anybody interested, and now we have everybody interested,” said Pat Harper, engineering administrator in the county Roads and Engineering Department, which manages the property.

Spokane Valley and Millwood are the most ambitious suitors, with a proposal to build a trail from Liberty Lake to Spokane.

Besides promoting recreation, the project – proposed by Inga Note, Spokane Valley’s senior engineer for traffic – would make bicycle commuting much more practical.

“It goes through neighborhoods and connects residential and commercial areas, and connects the Spokane Valley Mall to Spokane Community College,” said Steve Worley, senior engineer for capital projects.

Although there are some gaps in the Great Northern right of way, it offers a direct route through Spokane Valley’s warren of disconnected streets. Motorists and cyclists wouldn’t have to contend with one another on arterials.

Unlike the Centennial Trail, though, the new trail would cross a number of busy roads. Argonne and Pines pose the most difficult challenges for planners, Worley said.

Fortunately, he said, there’s an existing underpass for the Trent Avenue crossing.

The proposed 10-foot-wide, paved trail would make it easier to reach Centennial Trail access points without cars, trailers or bicycle carriers. Officials also envision connections with Liberty Lake’s extensive trail system and a Spokane Community College trail.

The SCC trail could connect with Tuffy’s Trail, a gravel path that runs along the south bank of the Spokane River between Greene Street and Mission Avenue.

Eventually, there could be a connection with the Children of the Sun Trail that is planned as part of the state’s North Spokane Corridor freeway project.

That 10  1/2-mile-long trail will connect the Wandermere area north of Spokane to the mile-long Ben Burr Trail, which runs between Spokane’s Liberty and Underhill parks south of Interstate 90.

Officials in Spokane and Liberty Lake were enthusiastic about Spokane Valley tie-ins to their trails.

“I think those connections are important and should be pursued,” said Spokane Park Operations Manager Tony Madunich. “We’d be very interested.”

Doug Smith, Liberty Lake’s community development director, said he hadn’t anticipated the North Greenacres Trail, which would end at the city boundary on Hodges Road.

“But we’re very interested in trail and path systems out here,” Smith said. “We’re certainly open and receptive to listen to plans.”

Studies are to begin soon on two path segments that have been dubbed the Spokane Valley-Millwood Trail and the North Greenacres Trail. They would join at the Spokane Valley Mall.

East of the mall, the North Greenacres Trail would coincide with the Centennial Trail for a short distance before rejoining the Great Northern right of way behind the River View Corporate Center at 16201 E. Indiana Ave.

Working together, Millwood and Spokane Valley have obtained $845,000 in federal money to design the paths. Spokane Valley will supervise the work.

Worley said the Spokane office of Portland-based David Evans and Associates has been awarded an approximately $95,000 contract to design the two-mile North Greenacres Trail. A consultant is to be selected soon for the seven-mile Spokane Valley-Millwood Trail.

Survey work for the Greenacres path will get started after Spokane County finishes installing a sewer line in the right of way later this summer.

Construction will depend on public input and ability to secure funding, Worley said.

Meanwhile, Spokane County officials are conferring with Avista representatives to determine whether there is room for a proposed 115-kilovolt electric transmission line.

Avista wants to build the line next year between an existing line just east of Pines Road and its Millwood substation at 9601 E. Frederick Ave.

The two-mile line would provide more capacity and reliability for Inland Empire Paper Co. and other customers in the Millwood area. The paper mill is owned by Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

Avista is focusing on the Great Northern right of way because other routes would have more impact on residential or commercial areas and be more expensive, according to Steve Trabun, an Avista regional business manager.

The question is whether the 50- to 60-foot-wide right of way can accommodate a new county reclaimed-water line as well as 25 to 33 utility poles that are about two feet in diameter and 65 to 85 feet tall.

The right of way in that area already has an underground Qwest telephone line near the north edge and a major sewer line – the 3- to 4-foot-diameter North Valley Interceptor – in the middle.

Officials envision the Spokane Valley-Millwood Trail between the Qwest line and the North Valley Interceptor, and the Avista line at the south edge.

But county Utilities Director Bruce Rawls wants assurance that a 24-inch pipe for reclaimed water can be installed later, between the interceptor and the Avista line.

The new pipe would be part of an estimated $42 million backup plan to dispose of water from the county’s new sewage treatment plant at 1004 N. Freya St. if discharge into the Spokane River becomes impractical. The treated effluent would be rerouted to county-owned wetlands at Saltese Flats.

A recently completed study calls for the reclaimed-water pipe to go east along the Great Northern right of way to the vicinity of Pines Road. Then it would go south to the Milwaukee Road right of way, east again to Steen Road and south to Saltese Flats.

Trabun said Avista engineers are studying the possibility of planting utility poles deeper so they won’t fall over if subsequent installation of the reclaimed-water pipe temporarily removes some the dirt around the free-standing poles.

If the county’s interests can be preserved with easements, county engineers favor giving the unlikely belle-of-the-ball rail line to the cities it passes through.