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

Spokane to pave 54 miles of dirt, gravel roads across the city

Bob and Janine Bunt are photographed standing on Napa Street near their home on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018. They have lived in the Napa/Francis area for decades and have complained for years about the condition of the road. Bob is a disabled Navy veteran and has COPD and asthma, and the dust from the street makes it so he can't go outside in the summer without experiencing serious respiratory issues. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Pearl Ziegler, 90, said she remembers when her part of town, an area of a few blocks where the Hillyard, Shiloh Hills and Whitman neighborhoods meet, was only a few houses and a sawmill built beside dirt tracks.

“There was nothing here,” she said. “Just trees.”

In the years since, the sawmill has been replaced by storage units and, in the once-rural areas around it, a cannabis store, a car repair shop and hundreds of homes and businesses now sit.

Yet the updating continues to lag in certain aspects. Francis Avenue is now an arterial, but several blocks of Napa Street, which crosses it, remainpitted and unpaved.

Ziegler said she doesn’t drive anymore and hasn’t noticed the condition of the road recently. Her neighbor, Bob Bunt, a disabled Navy veteran, called the road a hazard, saying cars constantly struggle to drive through the patchwork of potholes, and the dust they generate often forces him to stay inside due to his chronic respiratory issues.

Fifty-four miles of the 1,000 miles of streets in the city of Spokane are unpaved, according to city of Spokane spokeswoman Marlene Feist. The Spokane City Council approved a funding plan earlier this month that would allocate $400,000 for Districts 1 and 2 in 2019, and $700,000 in 2020 to pave the remaining unpaved roads in Spokane.

Councilman Mike Fagan said he has heard from constituents, many of whom are elderly, low-income or disabled, about the condition of Napa Street for years. The street will be his first priority when the project starts next year.

“I’ve been hearing folks loud and clear,” he said.

The City Council will form a subcommittee next year with one council member from each district to determine which streets will be paved first, Councilman Breean Beggs said.

Beggs said the subcommittee may look at how often a road is used, how often it would be used if it were paved and each neighborhood’s willingness to contribute funds when it determines which streets to pave first. He cautioned, however, that basing paving decisions on whether neighborhoods are willing to share the cost may be inequitable, with poorer areas less able to contribute to the project.

Ziegler’s daughter, Patty Dorr, said when her father was alive, her parents tried to start a local improvement district to pave their few blocks of Napa, but couldn’t get enough neighborhood support. Instead, they shared the cost of oiling the road and other maintenance with their neighbor, Louis Helgert, known to most as “Bummy,” who died last year. She said he often sprayed down the road to help manage the dust and covered the cost of oiling it with the few neighbors who could afford to pitch in.

Bunt, who has lived in the neighborhood for decades, said the majority of the people in the area are disabled or live on a fixed income and don’t have money to spare on road improvements.

“They’re retired and they have got to keep what they’ve got,” he said.

Beggs said District 1 and District 2 received the first wave of funding because they already approved a plan to pave Falls Avenue, also known as the Lower Crossing neighborhood, which is in City Council District 3.

He said he hopes to pave the section of South Altamont Street between East 46th and 49th avenues, as well as the section of 44th Avenue between Crestline and Altamont streets, which would connect the area to South Regal. Beggs said he was also open to nominations and intends to contact neighborhoods with his seatmate, Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, to hear what streets his district would like paved first.

Fagan said he would be out of office by the time most of the work began, but hoped his seatmate, Councilwoman Kate Burke, would continue his efforts. Burke said she hoped to get a spot on the street paving subcommittee because many of the city’s unpaved streets are located in District 1.

Bunt’s wife, Janine Bunt, said she and her and her husband have gone to public meetings, spoken to their city council members and publicly testified to bring attention to their road.

“It’s been 30 years of this,” she said. “I think we should have it paved.”