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News >  Spokane

$9 million may be needed to repair flood-damaged roads in Spokane County

UPDATED: Tue., March 28, 2017

Bob Keneally, who oversees road maintenance for Spokane County, assesses damage caused by late-winter flooding on Latah Creek Road on March 15, 2016. (Spokane County / Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter)
Bob Keneally, who oversees road maintenance for Spokane County, assesses damage caused by late-winter flooding on Latah Creek Road on March 15, 2016. (Spokane County / Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter)

Spokane County officials now predict the total cost of repairing flood-damaged roads and bridges will climb to $9 million.

That’s a significant increase from a month ago, when the predicted cost was about $1 million. Long-term repairs would involve strengthening roads, ditches and shorelines to mitigate future flooding.

The county already has exceeded its winter road-maintenance budget of $3.5 million, said county spokeswoman Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter. The maintenance budget for the whole year is about $20 million, she said.

The county has declared a state of emergency twice due to late-winter flooding, and officials are hoping to receive disaster reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Wheatley-Billeter said they have not yet submitted an application to FEMA.

The cost overruns mean some projects such as asphalt resurfacing may be delayed. Some grant-funded projects are on strict deadlines, so county officials likely will need to ask grant-giving agencies for more time to complete work, Wheatley-Billeter said.

“We just have a lot of information that needs to be gathered,” she said. “We’re juggling to see what needs to be done.”

Heavy rain and melting snow have forced dozens of road closures in rural parts of the county. Many culverts will need to be repaired or replaced, and in several spots along Latah Creek Road, “half the road went down the embankment,” Wheatley-Billeter said.

The flooding also has saturated gravel and dirt roads, creating deep “washboard” ruts that have frustrated some residents. But because the soil is still wet, county officials must wait to smooth out the ruts with grading machinery, Wheatley-Billeter said.

“That’s common practice, especially when you have some more critical things that need to be taken care of,” she said. “The road conditions have to be just right in order for the grading to be effective.”

Ruts would quickly form again under current conditions, and in some places the roadbeds are so waterlogged they couldn’t support the weight of a grader, Wheatley-Billeter said.

“With more rain in the forecast, it’s an exercise in futility. It flies in the face of logic to allocate all the time, and the resources, and the money, to do something that you know is not going to last,” she said. “When you live in the unincorporated areas, there are certain things you sacrifice for that little slice of heaven.”

Pothole repairs on paved roads also took a back seat as county road crews scrambled to address more critical problems due to this year’s flooding.

The county doesn’t have a segregated fund for emergency infrastructure repairs and instead relies on flexibility in its $64 million road budget.

As they prepare applications for state and federal emergency funding, county officials have asked businesses, renters and homeowners to report any property damage caused by the flooding.

Correction: As of March 28, Spokane County had not submitted an application for federal emergency funding to repair roads damaged by late-winter flooding. Due to a source’s error, an earlier version of this story stated otherwise.

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