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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Staci Lehman: New direction for transportation planning

By Staci Lehman For The Spokesman-Review

If you build it, they will come. But if you build it, you also have to maintain it.

That is what many overlook when planning for the future of transportation. Then, several years down the (figurative) road, your (real) road has potholes, crumbling sidewalks, the striping worn off, bridges that can’t carry the weight of today’s vehicles, and not enough money to fix it all.

That is why the focus of transportation planning is changing. The Spokane Regional Transportation Council (SRTC) is the lead for transportation planning in the area covered by Spokane County. The agency makes sure jurisdictions that build transportation facilities are coordinating projects, conducts transportation studies, and ensures federal and state funds for local transportation projects and programs are distributed fairly and equitably. Which isn’t as easy as it sounds; mostly because those funds are severely limited.

In the past, money was awarded to projects that built new roads, added lanes to accommodate more cars, and constructed expensive bridges. Both locally and nationally, the focus has started to shift to developing holistic transportation systems where all modes (private vehicles, walking, biking and buses) work and exist together. This means there will be substantially less funding available to projects that add car capacity in the future. SRTC is working on an update to its long-range transportation plan, Horizon 2040, and it may be a surprise to those used to the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality.

This update will look at ways to accomplish more with less. Projects that propose adding new lanes will have to justify why it is needed. Project sponsors will have to document that they considered the needs of all transportation users when designing the project. If projects don’t include pedestrian and bicycle features, they will have to explain why. After all, while we may not all ride bikes, we are all pedestrians at one time or another, even if just to walk to your car after work or when shopping.

The evaluation process to determine what projects to include in the plan will ask: “Is this project intended to improve public safety? What are the maintenance and operations costs? Does this project address freight issues?”

What does this mean for you? Safer and smoother roads, as well as more transportation choices. More pedestrian and bicycle facilities means getting around more efficiently for those who don’t drive and better connections to public transit. Spokane Transit’s Central City Line will be a new option for getting from Browne’s Addition to the University District.

An emphasis on finding ways to reduce collisions means safer roadways for those in cars and on foot or bike. Improved lighting, crosswalks and signal timing will help with this.

There are some major projects on the books: completion of the North Spokane Corridor; the University District Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge; the Central City line, and the completion of Martin Luther King Jr. Way connecting the University District to downtown Spokane. Besides those, you won’t see a lot of large transportation construction projects. The fewer “mega” projects we do, the more money is available for taking care of what we already have.

This outlook is explained in the existing Horizon 2040 plan at http://www.srtc.org/ mtp_2040.html. The update will be completed in 2017. Chances to give your input will be posted on the website. And if you would like to be added to SRTC’s list to be notified of planning activities, email contact.srtc@srtc.org.

Staci Lehman is communications coordinator for the Spokane Regional Transportation Council.

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