Spokane mass transit officials are poised to ask voters for a sales tax increase to run a trolley bus line from Browne’s Addition through the heart of downtown to the campuses of Gonzaga University and Spokane Community College.
The ambitious $72 million proposal mostly would be paid for with federal funds. About $12 million would be local tax dollars.
Called the Central City Line, the effort is but one part of the Spokane Transit Authority’s planning to improve public transportation in the region’s neighborhoods.
This week, the STA board voted to engage in preliminary engineering work for the trolley line.
STA’s 10-year vision, called the Moving Forward Plan, requires voter approval of a 0.3 percent sales tax increase. The STA board will decide Dec. 18 whether to put the issue on the ballot.
Backers say a more modern transit system will make Spokane attractive to new investment and new residents, especially younger adults who are increasingly giving up car ownership in favor of transit.
“It’s a good investment,” said County Commissioner Al French, a member of the STA board.
The preliminary engineering work will include an environmental study, the type of buses to be used, the facilities needed and financial details.
Board members on Thursday were told that an economic impact study, funded by STA, showed the Central City Line could increase property values by $175 million in 20 years.
“Transportation is essential for development,” said Terry Moore, of ECONorthwest, a regional economic consulting firm. “If it increases efficiency, it is going to increase development.”
Mark Aden, of DCI Engineers, told the board that the line could be the project “to get us out of the rut we’ve been in for a long time.”
Aden served on a citizen “sounding board” that reviewed the economic study.
County Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn, an STA board member, said she was concerned the trolley bus line would become what Economist magazine in a recent article called a “rolling blunder.”
O’Quinn, who serves in Commissioner District 2 of Spokane Valley, voted against moving ahead with preliminary engineering, in part because the full STA board has yet to send a measure to voters.
She was joined by Spokane Valley City Councilman Chuck Hafner, also on the STA board. Both of them said they are concerned about the long-term annual costs of operating the line. Hafner also pointed out that it would benefit the urban core, not Spokane Valley.
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