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Wednesday, August 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Federal review finds deficiencies in transportation plan

The organization responsible for planning transportation spending in Spokane is getting its knuckles rapped in a newly released federal review.

The Spokane Regional Transportation Council failed to include public transit and other alternatives to automobile travel in its main transportation plans, the government said in a report.

The Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration have ordered the council to include alternative means of transportation in its analysis of Spokane mobility projects.

Being out of compliance could threaten federal funding for transportation projects in the Spokane area.

The federal certification review, which is done every four years, requires the SRTC to comply.

Susan Meyer, chief executive officer of Spokane Transit Authority and a member of the transportation council’s board, greeted the news with optimism.

“We have been aware of the deficiencies noted in the certification report and are confident that (council officials) will address them,” she said in an email.

The deficiencies go beyond the failure to include alternate transportation methods in planning.

Federal officials said the council’s metropolitan transportation plan fails to account for fiscal constraints on its proposed projects.

In addition, the plan “does not adequately address the disposition of public comments, land management agency consultation, tribal consultation, latest planning assumptions and planning factors.” It also lacks sufficient supporting analysis, the feds said.

The deficiencies cited by federal authorities follow the departure last year of the transportation council’s longtime director.

During the former director’s tenure, federal money dedicated to transit was diverted to pay for new concrete intersections along heavily traveled arterials under the theory that buses were damaging the pavement in those locations and STA was obligated to help pay for the repairs.

That amounted to millions of dollars spent on streets rather than the bus system. That program has since ended.

Kevin Wallace, the council’s new director, arrived on the job last September and is in charge of bringing the agency into compliance.

He said the certification review noted several positive elements in the SRTC’s work, including a business-inspired planning effort to identify freight mobility needs.

Wallace has been working to increase public accountability at the agency, which plays a major role in how state and federal gas tax money is spent locally.

The Spokane Regional Transportation Council’s board, which is made up of elected and appointed officials, has identified its top two priorities currently as building the North Spokane Corridor and maintaining existing roads.

Transit and trail projects are also on the priority list.

But transit and nonmotorized travel is not being factored into how the region plans to handle traffic congestion in the future, the federal regulators said.

Including those elements in the plan does not necessarily mean that more money will be spent on transit and nonmotorized travel.

While those factors have to be considered, the final decisions on transportation projects are still up to the transportation board, Wallace said.

Port touts BNSF tie

The Port of Quincy in Central Washington is crowing about its new status as an “intermodal terminal” for freight shipments.

Last week, the port sent out a press release noting that its terminal facilities are now included on a national map for BNSF Railway Corp. customers.

The railroad and its Cold Train service have created “a partnership to provide expedited door-to-door refrigerated intermodal service between the Pacific Northwest and Chicago/Indianapolis/ Ohio Valley-area markets.”

Farm commodities are being shipped out of the facility in Quincy, a city of 6,750, and creating jobs there, the press release said.

Port districts are widely viewed as an economic development asset because, among other things, they can provide businesses with the opportunity to borrow money with tax-free financing.

A port district has lacked community support in Spokane.

However, leaders at Greater Spokane Incorporated are studying the possibility of creating one, officials said.

Road limits pending

Seasonal weight restrictions on Spokane County roads are likely to begin in another few weeks, officials said.

The roads with weight restrictions are posted. The restrictions, including reduced speed limits, last for about six weeks at the end of winter when the ground thaws beneath the roads.

Pothole crews out

Spokane city street crews are out patching potholes already. The largest potholes are being filled first. To report a city pothole, call (509) 625-7733.

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