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

Getting There: Hillyard oil contamination puts roadblock in plans for North Spokane Corridor

Spokane yards of the Great Northern at Hillyard in 1946  showed immediately the effects of  a nationwide rail strike. Thousands of empty and idle boxcars, oil tankers, gondolas and cattle cars stood on the tracks shortly after the strike was called.

Oil contamination in the old Hillyard rail yard is causing problems for the future route of the North Spokane Corridor.

On Thursday, the state Department of Transportation is holding a public meeting to talk about options for building the freeway through the former BNSF Railway yard on the east side of the Hillyard business district.

The meeting will be from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Spokane Community College Lair, 1810 N. Greene St.

Al Gilson, spokesman for DOT in Spokane, said freeway designers have not settled on a route design and that the meeting will help them get public input on alternatives.

Gilson said DOT’s design staff has prepared visual renderings of alternatives and will show those to the public. He described the meeting as “a status update.”

Oil that leaked from a locomotive refueling yard decades ago has seeped into the ground and now floats atop the Spokane aquifer just south of Wellesley Avenue.

The black fuel tank, which led to the Black Tank name of the contamination site, has been removed.

The plume of oil covers about 7 acres at a depth of 170 feet. It is not considered a health hazard and does not pose any risk to Spokane’s drinking water, officials have said.

BNSF Railway and Marathon Oil are responsible for a cleanup.

A remedial investigation and feasibility study for the cleanup are expected by the state Department of Ecology later this year or early in 2017.

State transportation officials said one solution for the freeway is to relocate it to the west of the Black Tank property.

Hillyard leaders are opposed to that plan because it would result in an elevated freeway segment to the east of the Hillyard business area and impact plans for a walking park adjacent to the business area.

David Griswold, a neighborhood leader, said he hopes new technology can be used to clean the oil contamination while maintaining a low profile for the freeway through Hillyard.

Funding to complete the North Spokane Corridor from the Francis Avenue and Freya Street interchange to Interstate 90 is available through the Connecting Washington transportation package approved by lawmakers last year.

However, that funding puts the project on a fairly tight timeline for construction.

The package, funded in part through higher gasoline taxes, provides up to $879 million through June 2029 for real estate purchases, design and construction.

Transit critic speaks out on Proposition 1

The Washington Policy Center, a longtime critic of public transit, last week issued a citizens’ guide to a Spokane Transit Authority request to raise the local sales tax to pay for transit improvements.

Proposition 1 seeks a tenth of a penny increase in April 2017 and another tenth of a penny in April 2019, with both taxes to run through 2028.

The funding would raise more than $200 million for new park-and-ride facilities, longer and more frequent service hours and a new all-electric Central City Line from Browne’s Addition through downtown and the University District to Spokane Community College.

The policy center points out that the local sales tax would go to 8.9 percent within the STA transit benefit area that includes urbanized cities and suburbs in the county.

STA relies on sales tax for the bulk of its funding and collects six-tenths of a penny on retail sales.

A similar proposal in 2015, for a sales tax increase of three-tenths of a penny, was narrowly defeated.

STA officials spent more than a year revising plans and changing their financial predictions based on an improved economy. That has allowed the agency’s board to ask for a smaller tax.

The policy center argues that transit service can be improved without a tax increase.

STA officials have said the proposed improvements would not be possible without additional funding.

The policy center also contends that the Central City Line does not qualify as a bus rapid transit facility.

STA expects to win federal funding for the $70 million project.

The policy center said administrative costs at STA increased 85 percent from 2004 to 2013.

In a statement, STA responded to the policy center by saying, “We work hard to provide quality transit service and to be good stewards of public resources – both of which are reflected in the 10-year transit plan.”

The district also said the policy center’s guide to the STA request “contains many errors and misrepresentations of fact.”

“It’s clear the WPC has its view about how transit should operate, but community members and service organizations from throughout the region asked for the projects being considered, so it will be the voters who ultimately decide how STA prepares for the future,” STA said.

In Spokane

In Spokane, work is just about finished on Indiana Avenue from Dakota to Perry streets. The reconstruction work should be completed by next Monday.

Work on the new Martin Luther King Jr. Way from Sherman to Erie streets has forced closure of Erie from Monday through Nov. 4.

Paving was being completed as weather allowed on Monroe and Lincoln streets from Second to Eighth avenues.

To the north, crews on Monroe and Lincoln streets from Main to Second avenues are hoping to lay down more pavement on Friday. The project is now partially paved.

Wall Street from Main to Spokane Falls Boulevard has now been finished and is reopened to traffic.

Craig Road south of Airway Heights from McFarlane and Thorpe roads is undergoing a water line installation, which is forcing closure of Craig through next Monday.

In Spokane County

On Interstate 90, the eastbound off-ramp for Hamilton Street will have lane restrictions Monday through Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. during bridge deck repairs.

Bridge work is also causing lane restrictions on I-90 west of Spokane at the BNSF Railway line at Sprague Lake and at Wahl Road.

Intersection warning signs are being installed on U.S. Highway 2 at Colbert Road and on U.S. Highway 395 at Deer Park.

In Spokane Valley

In Spokane Valley, First Avenue from Commercial to Howe roads is reduced to one lane during paving through Nov. 10.

Commercial from Sprague to First avenues is closed for paving through Nov. 10. Also, Sprague is reduced to one lane on Tuesday from 7 to 11 a.m.

Street sweeping is expected to begin in Spokane Valley. Property owners are supposed to handle their own leaves and not put them in the road. City officials asked that residents move vehicles and other obstructions so the cleaning can be thorough.

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Amtrak engine gets Seahawks makeover

The Seattle Seahawks and state Transportation Department have teamed up to paint one of the Amtrak Cascades locomotives in the team’s colors and emblem. The train will make 18 stops on its runs from Eugene to Vancouver, B.C. The new paint is part of a train safety education campaign.