With full funding now available for completing the North Spokane Corridor, engineers are back at the drawing board refining plans that will bring major changes to neighborhoods in east and northeast Spokane.
State lawmakers last summer approved a pair of gasoline tax increases and other funding for a wide range of major projects in Washington, including the long-sought completion of the north-south freeway link.
But money for the work is not expected to start flowing for several more years, which gives state engineers time to make changes.
Debate over building what has been known as the “north-south freeway” dates back to the 1960s. An early proposal to put the freeway through the Logan Neighborhood was defeated by strong opposition there. Eventually, the plan moved to the east where the freeway is now being built.
The greatest impacts to neighborhoods are going to be found at major interchanges at Wellesley and Trent avenues and the connection to Interstate 90.
Current plans on the DOT’s website have the words “conceptual” stamped over a map of design.
At I-90, those plans show a series of ramps and access points to handle the numerous traffic movements through East Spokane.
Al Gilson, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said that the heavily used corridors at the existing Thor-Freya interchange will continue serving traffic as much as they do now.
Engineers are working to preserve businesses and access there, including the Tapio Office Center and restaurant on Second Avenue between Thor and Freya streets, Gilson said.
“Everything is preliminary in that area,” Gilson said.
The current conceptual map for East Central shows interchange ramps between Ralph and Altamont streets to the west of Thor and Freya streets.
The main line would extend north along the existing Greene Street alignment.
A new westbound I-90 exit at Freya Street is undergoing construction this summer to the west of the existing exit. That new exit will connect with Second Avenue and funnel traffic to the existing light at Second and Freya.
Joy Hart, former chairwoman of the East Central Neighborhood Council, said preserving neighborhood access is an important issue for her area.
She said economic development along East Sprague Avenue and in the industrial properties just north of Sprague will require maintaining good arterial flow for expected increases in traffic.
Hundreds of homes have already been purchased and demolished for the freeway in East Spokane.
Business and property owners are waiting for the state to make right of way purchases for the freeway north of I-90, which would be elevated to cross over the existing surface streets and a rail line.
Gilson said the Trent interchange is also under potential revision.
In the vicinity of Hillyard, a series of three roundabouts has been proposed for the Wellesley interchange with underpasses serving east-west traffic on Wellesley.
The first of those three roundabouts is set for construction this year at Freya and Wellesley.
A three-minute video showing the interchange can be found on the DOT’s project website at wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/US395/NorthSpokaneCorridor.
Details of that design are subject to change, Gilson said.
The state in recent years has changed how it approaches large projects using what the agency calls “practical solutions” for efficiency, cost-effectiveness and ease of construction, Gilson said.
Even with the re-design, the project is expected to cost $879 million between now and 2027, including inflation.
About $625 million has been spent on completion of the north half of the corridor from U.S. Highway 395 at Wandermere to Freya Street north of Francis Avenue.
Tentative funding plans call for right of way purchases from 2017 to 2019, followed by completion to Trent Avenue by 2022 and then to I-90 by 2027. The total distance from Wandermere to I-90 is 10.5 miles.
To pay for new projects, lawmakers raised the gas tax by 7 cents a gallon last August and approved an additional increase of 4.9 cents on July 1.
Rather than selling bonds to raise cash for faster construction, the plan calls for using a large share of the money as the new revenue is received. That allows for phasing construction over a number of years.
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