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

West Plains rail upgrade gaining speed

The state of Washington is backing a Spokane County plan to bring improved rail service to the West Plains for economic development.

The state has identified a 7-mile stretch of spur track north of Cheney for upgrades to handle heavier freight.

An estimated $7 million is needed to improve the rural segment of track from Cheney to the Geiger Spur near Fairchild Air Force Base.

That section has been selected as one of three grant requests to the federal government by the Washington state Department of Transportation, County Commissioner Al French said.

French said he wants his fellow commissioners to consider committing county funds to the rail improvements, which are part of a wider plan to draw industrial growth to the West Plains.

“I am opening it for conversation,” he said of the county’s potential financial participation.

Freight service is considered a key to drawing more aerospace and shipping industries to vacant land along the Interstate 90 and U.S. Highway 2 corridors.

Having options for highway, air and rail transportation is part of the business recruiting pitch being used by Spokane community leaders, French said.

French and fellow county commissioners Shelly O’Quinn and Todd Mielke have said they want to consider the option of shipping Spokane County garbage by rail to waste facilities in the Columbia River gorge if long-haul by rail can save money over disposal at the Spokane city-owned waste incinerator.

A loading facility on the Geiger Spur could handle garbage shipments. The garbage shipments would then provide a reliable revenue source for the transloader facility that would be available for industrial uses, French said. The loading facility is under consideration for land near state Highway 902 northwest of I-90.

The short line from Cheney to Coulee City was purchased by the state in 2007 to preserve rail shipping in the region. Eastern Washington Gateway Railroad currently operates rail service on the line.

Spokane County owns the Geiger Spur that runs from the short line south of Fairchild Air Force Base northeastward into land adjacent to Spokane International Airport and Airway Heights.

Chris Herman, freight rail policy manager for WSDOT, said the state-owned short line could handle additional grain trains from the upper Columbia Basin.

Central Washington Grain Growers is considering construction of a new grain loading facility along the track in Lincoln County, French said.

The grant request to the federal government is under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant program.

I-90 widening resuming

Interstate 90 east of Snoqualmie Pass is going to be a bottleneck for drivers again this construction season.

Work is expected to resume in early April on the multiyear job of widening the freeway from four to six lanes along Keechelus Lake.

On April 12, the freeway will be reduced to a single lane in each direction for two weeks, including weekends, while WSDOT and its contractor set up detours for the construction season.

Delays of up to two hours are possible during the busiest travel times on weekends at midday during the two-week period.

“We suggest you travel early in the morning, go later at night, find an alternate route or postpone your trip until after April 25,” said Don Whitehouse, WSDOT regional administrator, in a news release.

Workers will be removing the old snow shed in the westbound lanes. New bridges that will allow snowslides to pass underneath the spans will be under construction starting this summer.

Evening freeway closures for blasting work will occur again this season.

The project over 15 miles started in 2009 and is expected to continue to 2018. Funding is in place to finish 7 miles of the project from the Stampede Pass interchange to Hyak.

Construction contracts of $350 million have been awarded so far for the first 5 miles of the widening. Funding is in place for 2 more miles of work.

Trail extension honored

The extension of Spokane’s Centennial Trail through Kendall Yards on the north bank of the Spokane River is being recognized for overall excellence by Futurewise, an environmental land use advocacy group in Washington.

The city of Spokane teamed with the Kendall Yards developer to build the trail. The city used a $2 million grant to purchase 2.7 acres of land from the developer along the river gorge.

Greenstone Corp., the developer, used that money in turn to build the trail and contributed another 0.85 acres to the project. In addition, Greenstone paved the trail beneath the Monroe Street Bridge into Veterans Court of Riverfront Park.

The award recognizes the city and Greenstone for creating livable communities.

Input on roads sought

Spokane Valley is asking for help in coming up with a plan for improvements to Mission Avenue from Barker to Flora roads at a meeting Wednesday from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

The meeting will be at Greenacres Christian Church, 18010 E. Mission Ave.

A formal presentation lasting 15 to 20 minutes is scheduled for 6:45 p.m.

The section of Mission under consideration is a two-lane roadway with gravel edges and no curbs or sidewalks.

Project manager Craig Aldworth said improvements are needed to handle growth in traffic and provide safer passage for pedestrians and bicyclists.

City staff will be at the meeting to answer questions and take suggestions.

Anyone unable to attend who wants to be updated on the project should contact Carolbelle Branch at (509) 720-5411 or

Cowley Street closure

A water main project at Chandler Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues and on Eighth from Chandler to Cowley streets will force closure of Cowley from Wednesday to April 11.

Reconstruction of Francis Avenue from Division to Crestline streets has been postponed until March 31.

Watch for sweepers

WSDOT has crews out sweeping the region’s highways, so motorists are asked to use caution when they encounter crews that might include several sweepers and a water truck working as a team.