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

Getting There: Top road construction projects of 2018

Road construction hits that primal part of our brains; the same section that seeks food, protects loved ones and comments on social media. The emotional bit that simplifies and clarifies the complexity of life. The area that, at least when it comes to road work, grumbles, “Just fix the road! Fill the potholes!”

Of course, road construction is much more complicated than that, and the $67 million in new projects – not to mention the $88 million in work on ongoing projects – the city of Spokane will embark on this year reflect that complexity.

The five key projects this year cover a lot of ground, from completing road renovations to new bikeways on an old highway to an interesting pilot project done in conjunction with Gonzaga University testing new types of pavement and concrete.

Complex, interesting and, yes, they will likely affect your commute.

North Monroe

It’s been a point of contention for some outspoken business owners, but the renovation of North Monroe will begin and finish this year.

The $7.1 million project will reduce Monroe’s lanes from five to three between Northwest Boulevard to the North Hill, construct more visible crosswalks and make the business center’s sidewalks wider with more trees and benches.

The street has seen plummeting traffic counts in the past three decades, from 33,000 vehicles a day in 1985 to less than half that today. It was once the principal road on the North Side, and was the first to get street lights in the city. The city’s plan for the road reflects the road’s changing identity.

Regardless, the months of construction will be tough on the businesses there. The city is trying to lessen the pain for businesses, primarily by having two contracts out for the job, effectively doubling the workforce to complete the project in a seven-month time frame between April and October.

“North Monroe is our biggy,” said Marlene Feist, director of strategic development for the Public Works and Utilities Department. “We’re bidding the project out in two phases, and the first bid is out now. We want to be ready to go. Construction will start April 1, no later than that. If we could start in March, that’d be great.”

Sharp Avenue

Roads do more than act as roadways for vehicles. Their flat, impermeable surfaces shuffle rainwater to drains, where it’s conveyed to stormwater systems. In Spokane’s case, that meant the river for a long time.

Now, as the city nears completion of a massive undertaking to stop polluted road water – and other distasteful fluids – from entering the river, our roads are being considered to be much different creatures than they were before.

The work this year on Sharp is a good example of this. Look at it now. The high point of the road is in the center, where a little curb of concrete separates opposing lanes of traffic. When it rains, water rushes to either side of the road, along a culvert and into the stormwater system.

After this year, well, none of that will happen.

Designs for the $2 million project show the city is “inverting the crown,” as Feist said. The center will now be a the low point, and rain water will run to new central swales – rain gardens with trees and other landscaping – that will take the place of the raised concrete curb in the middle of the road between Ruby and Hamilton streets.

Some of Sharp’s blocks will be made with porous asphalt, allowing rain water to seep through the road and enter the earth below. It’s a new method of treating stormwater on-site, allowing the dirt below to “bio-filter” the water before it reaches the river and aquifer, our sole source of drinking water.

Following the same logic, some of the street’s parking bays will be made of porous concrete.

The city first looked into the viability of permeable pavement on bike lanes built two years ago on the upper South Hill. Under the guidance of Sue Niezgoda, an associate professor in Gonzaga’s civil engineering department, eight civil engineering students and one chemistry major evaluated the permeable bike lane pavement on South Havana Street between 37th Avenue and Glenrose Road. They assessed the durability of the pavement, how difficult it was to clean and maintain, the best construction practices of laying the pavement, and its filtration abilities.

With that evaluation complete, the city and Gonzaga are now looking to Sharp, and to much heavier vehicles.

“We want to try it in the travel lane where it holds the weight of the vehicles,” Feist said.

Five Mile Road

The rollout of roundabouts continues in the region, with the newest one coming to Five Mile Road at its intersection with Strong Road.

Now before you see roundabout-red, know that the $3.7 million Five Mile project includes a full road replacement between Strong and Lincoln roads, with 11-foot vehicle lanes, 6-foot bicycle lanes and 5-foot sidewalks. A new turn lane is coming to St. Thomas More Way, and new water pipe will be installed, but that will be underground.

But yes. It’s a roundabout, one of the great disruptors of the calm reading of this column. But as we’ve written before, roundabouts are much safer than conventional signalized intersections.

According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, roundabouts reduce the number of crashes in which people are seriously hurt or killed by about 80 percent when compared to conventional signalized intersections. Studies done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Federal Highway Administration show that roundabouts reduced fatal collisions by 90 percent.

The benefits are so clear that the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Safety urges planners to build roundabouts as a proven way to increase safety for all users: motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists.

So next time you approach a roundabout, slow down, take a deep breath and enjoy the curve.

Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard was once the Sunset Highway. When it opened in 1915, it was one of the original roads across the state, the first auto route to traverse the Cascades and the main road in and out of Spokane for motorist travelers.

But with the completion of Interstate 90 half a century ago, the old highway became a rutted relic of the past.

This year, the city has designs for a $3.6 million project to refurbish one of the best stretches of the road, the incline up Sunset Hill on the city’s west fringe.

Right now, it’s a tight four lanes on degraded pavement. Skinny, muddy paths on the edge welcome few walkers. At completion, a new road surface will feature two lanes going up the hill, one coming down, new wide sidewalks, a bike lane on the south side and a wide, elevated and paved trail going up the north side.

After the crest of the hill, the new bike and pedestrian facilities will meet another city project: a 3.2-mile shared-use path between Royal Street and Deer Heights Road where the city meets Airway Heights.

Old is new again, and what once was a busy auto route will soon be shared by cars, cyclists and walkers.

High Drive

Another phase of work along the South Hill’s High Drive will be done this year between 21st and 29th avenues.

More of a continuation of previous work, the $1.5 million project is technically just a sewer line replacement, but it will bring a full-width road reconstruction with it. While they’re there, crews will build a new pedestrian trail. And those pesky blue slides that deliver nasty stormwater to Latah Creek near 21st and 25th will be done away with.

Other projects

It doesn’t rank near the top of the city’s list, but this year will also see the completion of the bicyclist and pedestrian bridge in the University District. The as-yet unnamed bridge will open amid other adjoining projects, including the further extension of MLK Way to Trent (where yet another roundabout will be constructed) and more work to update East Sprague Avenue.

By far, however, most of the city’s energy will be focused on its work to finish the massive project stopping sewage from entering the Spokane River. Six projects are still ongoing, notably the work that has kept Spokane Falls Boulevard closed for a year, with another year ahead, by the downtown library, and the giant hole in the ground on the west end of downtown near Cedar Street and First Avenue.

This year, three new projects will begin: in Kendall Yards, in the Peaceful Valley neighborhood on Main Avenue from Monroe to Cedar streets and in 22 small projects dotting the West Central neighborhood.

And, just in case that primal brain is still working, feverishly examining the page for pothole news, here you go:

The city continues its mad pace to patch existing roadways. In 2017, the city filled 4,795 potholes, compared to 3,045 the year before. Already this year, in the young days of January, it has filled 651.