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

Spokane Valley won’t pursue University Road I-90 overpass

Neveah Miller, 7, sleds with her family Wednesday at Valley Mission Park. A pedestrian- and bicycle-only bridge across Interstate 90 at the park is among a handful of options being discussed for easing traffic congestion and improving recreational access in Spokane Valley. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Spokane Valley is backing away from the idea of a new Interstate 90 overpass near University Road.

Initially viewed as a potential option to help ease worsening traffic congestion, neighborhood opposition and other issues have prompted the city’s consultant to instead give higher priority to a $6.4 million expansion at Argonne Road and to suggest a new bicycle- and pedestrian-only bridge at Valley Mission Park be considered in the future.

“What’s happened is we now have a draft plan and recommendations,” said Eric Guth, the city’s public works director.

The next step is to seek more public comments before preparing a final report for the City Council. Any decision is still months away, and while efforts are being made to identify potential options, no funding has been earmarked.

But the problem illustrates the latest growing pains for a city bisected by a major interstate and reliant on a network of overpasses that can become traffic chokepoints each weeknight.

Spokane Valley has at least one I-90 overpass every mile except between its two busiest crossings: Argonne and Pines roads, which are about 2 miles apart. In addition to creating delays and headaches for motorists, it’s an impediment for joggers and bicyclists trying to access recreational trails.

San Diego-based Fehr and Peers traffic consultants, which the city paid nearly $230,000 to study options for easing congestion, still includes a new University Road overpass as a potential solution but gives it a low priority because it would be costlier than expanding Argonne and would provide less congestion relief. The city used a federal grant to pay for most of the study costs.

The Argonne and Mullan Road corridor is one of the Inland Northwest’s busiest stretches, with an average of 42,000 vehicles crossing the five-lane overpass per day. An average of 32,000 vehicles cross the Pines Road overpass each day.

Commuters and merchants alike say congestion gets so bad on weeknights that motorists often must wait through two or more traffic light cycles before getting through intersections leading to the overpass. A fender-bender or inclement weather exacerbates the problems.

“It can get horrible,” said Brian Pierce, who works at a nearby auto parts store and has been driving the Argonne and Mullan corridor for years. “The cars just stack up waiting to get across.”

Last month, when the Inland Northwest got its first snowfall of the season, the overpass and the intersections leading to it looked more like parking lots.

“It took me probably 45 minutes to get across,” Pierce said, explaining that he understands traffic jams are part of living in a growing city but that he also is hopeful that it will improve someday.

Under the recommended Argonne expansion, the existing overpass would be rebuilt and widened to add an additional southbound lane. Currently, Argonne narrows at the overpass to just two southbound lanes, which is one reason traffic bottlenecks north of the freeway. Pedestrian access would also be improved as part of the widening project.

Consultants also suggested rerouting traffic on the Argonne overpass, which would ease congestion by improving overall traffic flow. But it would require substantial renovations, including major modifications to the freeway ramps, and would cost an estimated $8.2 million.

A University Road overpass, which would cost an estimated $10.6 million, has been discussed at various times over the years. State officials considered it in 1997 but concluded that other transportation projects in the region should be given priority.

At an open house last year in which the city revived the University overpass idea, residents south of the freeway objected and worried that it would ruin their neighborhoods. However, consultants said strong support exists among residents for a pedestrian- and bicycle-only bridge at Valley Mission Park, which would improve recreational access to the Centennial Trail for Valley residents south of the freeway. The estimated cost of the nonmotorized vehicle bridge is $5.2 million, and consultants suggested it would be a good option to keep open in the future as greater progress is made on a series of suburban recreational trails on both sides of the interstate.