There aren’t a lot of reasons to linger in the concrete chasm below Interstate 90 in downtown Spokane.
There just isn’t much to do in the unpleasant environs under the highway, other than park your car or avoid the oddly colored drips coming from somewhere above, where the cars roar.
The Washington State Department of Transportation sees a different fate for the areas below and around the North Spokane Corridor, the freeway it’s building just east of town. And it wants to hear from as many people as possible about the “placemaking” near the long-awaited north-south freeway.
From the route of the Children of the Sun trail, to art or open-air libraries below the elevated highway “Skyway” that will fly over the East Central and Chief Garry neighborhoods, to who will maintain the public spaces, WSDOT has a lot of questions it wants answered.
“It’s not about creative places, but making places creatively,” said Charlene Kay, a planning engineer with the eastern region of the state agency, who is helping lead the placemaking initiative and is part of a “collaboration team” of about 40 people who are interested in how the freeway will affect the areas it passes through. Eastern Washington University and the city of Spokane are also involved.
The work to draw in as much of the community as possible during the planning stages of the highway stems from pushback WSDOT received in 2016, after a massive contaminated site was found and threatened a redesign of the highway. Oil that leaked from a locomotive refueling yard decades ago seeped through the ground and now floats atop the Spokane aquifer just south of Wellesley Avenue.
After an agreement struck between WSDOT, the state Ecology Department, BNSF Railway and Marathon Oil to clean up the industrial contamination did not force a rerouting of the highway, members of the community thought WSDOT was “making decisions behind the scenes,” said Bob Hilmes, the freeway’s design project engineer.
From then on, the transportation department was determined to include more people in discussions about the highway’s future, Hilmes said.
Currently, discussion is focused on the Children of the Sun trail, which will run near the entire length of the freeway. Today it connects Wandermere to Hillyard via a paved, separate trail that loops around the northeast part of the city. When completed, it will connect to the Centennial Trail and lead all the way to the freeway’s interchanges with I-90.
The segment of the trail under consideration now goes from Columbia Avenue to across the Spokane River. WSDOT and the collaboration team are working out the route, size and location before design work begins in earnest.
An online survey is available for people to take and express their preferences. An open house about the trail is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Sept. 10 at the Northeast Community Center.
Early discussions show a preference for the trail to run on the freeway’s west side from its current terminus in Hillyard until Garland Avenue. After running below the highway, it will pass through Wildhorse Park and head south again, this time on the freeway’s east side, where it will connect with the Centennial Trail on the Spokane River.
How the trail will cross the river is still under discussion.
To find out more, visit NSCPlace.com. To take the survey, go to surveymonkey.com/r/NSCTrail.
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