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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Getting There: New federal highway bill to help Spokane region

Passage last week of a new federal transportation act may open the door for local projects seeking federal grant money.

Congressional approval came after seven years of disagreement that led to short-term extensions of the old transportation law.

“Considering how long they have kicked the can down the road, we are happy they came up with something,” said Joe Tortorelli, of Spokane, who is vice chairman of the Washington State Transportation Commission.

Tortorelli said the new law won’t fix a worsening shortfall in federal gasoline tax revenue, which now is $35 billion a year less than what’s required to meet project needs. The shortfall is caused in large part by increases in vehicle fuel efficiency.

Congress has used money from the general fund to close the gas-tax revenue gap in recent years.

The new five-year bill is still not fully funded and relies in part on a money transfer from a federal reserve bank account.

The $305 billion bill also does not expand funding in existing programs.

However, it adds money to combat bottlenecks on freight routes, which is a major issue in the Puget Sound region, where heavy traffic slows trucking.

Washington state is eligible for $107 million in freight funding under a federal formula and could also compete for grants beyond that.

That freight mobility funding could help finance improvements at the Geiger and Medical Lake interchanges on Interstate 90, which serve shipping and warehousing.

Tortorelli said the new federal law could also be used for the North Spokane Corridor, since that project has a freight mobility component to it.

Completion of the North Spokane Corridor was ensured earlier this year with passage by the Washington Legislature of a state gasoline tax increase and transportation funding package.

Tortorelli said having state money allocated to the freeway project means the corridor will be competitive for federal grants in coming years, and that money would offset state spending.

To date, the North Spokane Corridor project has used $625 million, with another $750 million needed to extend the freeway to Interstate 90.

Tortorelli said frustration had been building across the country in recent years over the inability of Congress to adopt a new federal law and provide states and local agencies with some certainty for financing long-needed projects.

The new legislation “eventually had to break loose,” he said.

Funding is also included for transit projects. Tortorelli said the Spokane Transit Authority will be able to compete for grant funding if the agency moves ahead with a central city transit line from Spokane Community College through the University District and downtown to Browne’s Addition.

In an email, Susan Meyer, chief executive of STA, said, “This provides a measure of funding certainty for transportation agencies. Bottom line: more efficient use of funding to meet the communities’ needs.”

She said the bill also continues a competitive program for bus replacement funding, which STA has been successful at obtaining in past years.

The bill also has money for alternative transportation projects such as the region’s growing network of trails.

The new federal law also includes planning money for states that are considering per-mile road charges in lieu of gasoline taxes.

Tortorelli said Washington has joined California and Oregon in studying such an approach to road funding.

Keller Ferry out

The Keller Ferry on state Highway 21 across the Columbia River was taken out of service late last week with an engine problem. State officials said they hoped to have repairs completed quickly.

Winter driving classes

The Idaho State Police is now taking reservations for the annual road safety class for winter driving, which will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 9 at the police district office at 615 W. Wilbur Ave. in Coeur d’Alene.

For reservations, call the office at (208) 209-8620 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The class is limited to 60 drivers, so it’s a good idea to call early to get a seat. The class has filled up in past years.

This is the 13th year the award-winning class has been offered.

Traffic around RPS mall

River Park Square has planned for special traffic control measures during busy weekend shopping times.

One westbound lane of Spokane Falls Boulevard will be closed for mall traffic, and flaggers will help direct traffic exiting the garage.

The dates for traffic control are Dec. 11, 12, 18, 19, 23, 24 and 26.

Leaf pickup resumes

Elsewhere in Spokane, pickup of fall leaves on city streets has resumed following a suspension of the work for windstorm cleanup.

A leaf pickup schedule can be found at spokanecity.org or by calling the leaf hotline at (509) 625-7737.

In the downtown area, Wall Street from Main Avenue to Spokane Falls Boulevard was expected to reopen to traffic.

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