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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Getting There: Look to the sky, because the North Spokane Corridor is happening

Vehicles pass under the new North Spokane Corridor bridges along Freya, Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. The first section of the highway opened in August 2009; the second half will be more complicated to build. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Vehicles pass under the new North Spokane Corridor bridges along Freya, Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. The first section of the highway opened in August 2009; the second half will be more complicated to build. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

If you haven’t heard of the Skyway, now’s the time to listen.

Beginning just north of the Spokane River, this elevated southern end of the North Spokane Corridor will fly over Spokane Community College, the Chief Garry Park neighborhood and East Central before landing in a tangle of freeway exchanges at Interstate 90.

It’s called the Skyway because when you look up, that’s where it will be. Above SCC’s parking lot. Over the river and the rail tracks. At some points, towering nearly 60 feet above the ground below.

And did you hear about the agreement between BNSF Railway, Husky Energy and the state departments of Ecology and Transportation to clean up the “black tank” contamination?

Last year, the parties finally agreed to take care of a major oil spill from historic rail operations in Hillyard that forced a redesign of the freeway’s path. The prime example of that redesign will be a long, loping, circular on-ramp at Wellesley Avenue that swoops around the contaminated site.

And what about the 7 miles of a paved shared-use trail that runs along the completed section of the north-south freeway?

The quiet turns and hills of the Children of the Sun Trail takes cyclists and walkers to the edge of town. The middle of nowhere, really, but it’s a secret gem that many cyclists have yet to discover.

Or how about the fact that the U.S. Highway 395 corridor, which the North Spokane Corridor is part of, carries more than 7.2 million tons of freight a year, equivalent to $13.5 billion?

There’s a lot that people don’t know about the fabled north-south freeway. That’s probably because it’s been fabled for so long, and gone through iteration after iteration of designs over the decades, that its particulars are shrouded.

For instance, its original route was slated to follow the Hamilton and Nevada streets corridor, through the Logan and Nevada-Lidgerwood neighborhoods and Gonzaga University. That plan was scrapped, in large part, thanks to the tireless opposition of Margaret Hurley, a state legislator from Spokane.

It was also once supposed to be a sunken freeway, with adjacent streets looking down upon it.

The right of way for an eventual light rail was built into early plans of the freeway’s present incarnation, part of the state’s mandate to encourage transportation modes other than the car. Those plans too were scrapped, and the freeway’s planners instead incorporated the shared-use Children of the Sun Trail.

So in the spirit of clearing some things up and doing away with the freeway’s shroud, here are some cold, hard facts about the North Spokane Corridor:

    The freeway first conceived in 1946 will be built. It will, yes, it will. It’s expected to be completed in 2029. In all, the $1.5 billion project will have received $140 million in federal money and nearly $1.4 billion from the state.

    About $45 million of the federal share comes from TIGER grants, a program created in 2009 during the recession, as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, to “improve the efficiency of surface transportation infrastructure, reduce fuel consumption, and expand personal transportation choices,” according to the federal Transportation Department. President Trump’s recent budget proposal eliminates the TIGER grant program.

    The lion’s share of the freeway’s funding came in 2016, when the state Legislature and governor put $879 million toward the project. That money came from the 2015 Connecting Washington transportation package, a $16 billion package funded through an 11.9-cent tax on every gallon of fuel.

    When complete, the 10.5-mile highway is expected to carry 150,000 vehicles a day, comparable to I-90.

    About 500 homes and 115 businesses will be demolished by the time construction is complete.

    The southern end of the highway, the Skyway, will fly over East Central, the same neighborhood that has seen its fortunes rise (with the Sunset Highway) and fall (by being cut in two with the construction of I-90) thanks to road construction.

Construction began in 2001, and the first section of the highway opened in August 2009. About half of the road is complete, but the second half will be more complicated to build. The northern half goes through far-flung, largely uninhabited land. The southern half cuts through urban areas.

Now that you’ve heard all about the North Spokane Corridor, it’s time to get involved.

Beginning this week, the Washington State Department of Transportation is holding a series of workshops where everyone and anyone can help design the places around the coming freeway.

The “charrettes,” as the workshops are called, are meant to be inclusive, interactive and collaborative workshops in which people can raise concerns about the freeway and its impacts, and help find solutions. Residents of all Spokane neighborhoods, and anyone else, are welcome.

Three workshops will focus on the neighborhoods the unbuilt section of the freeway will run through – Bemiss and Whitman, Hillyard and Minnehaha – and another will be focused on the remaining section of the Children of the Sun Trail.

For more information, visit WSDOT’s North Spokane Corridor page at wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/US395/NorthSpokaneCorridor.

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