The city of Spokane Valley has hired a lobbyist to help the city secure federal transportation funding for future rail projects.
The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an annual contract with Cardinal Infrastructure LLC for $78,000 per year, which includes travel expenses for two trips for the Washington, D.C.-based firm to travel to and from Spokane Valley.
The firm will begin work for the city in January by researching available funding for transportation projects, gaining congressional support for grant applications and communicating the city’s transportation needs with the U.S. Department of Transportation, federal agencies and trade association groups.
Discussions about hiring a federal lobbyist began at the City Council’s June 12 budget workshop. The city estimated the position would cost close to $100,000 – more than twice the amount the city of Spokane spends for federal lobbying.
Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart told The Spokesman-Review in July that Spokane spends about $35,000 to $40,000 annually on issues involving the city and the Spokane International Airport.
However, Spokane Valley officials claim a federal lobbyist is a good investment because they are seeking millions of federal dollars for new railroad bridges and road projects.
The city acquired funding for its Barker Road grade-separation project this year and is now focusing on additional funding opportunities for the proposed $29 million Pines Road grade-separation project to replace an at-grade rail crossing with an underpass.
Although the city was successful in securing a federal TIGER grant for the Barker Road project, it’s a highly competitive process. The North Spokane Corridor project is the only applicant in the nation that has been awarded two TIGER grants.
The city also plans to pursue other road projects, such as fixing a third at-grade rail crossing at Park Road and the BNSF tracks as well as widening Barker Road from the Spokane River to Trent Avenue.
“As the council and the public are probably aware of, we’ve identified an aggressive set of projects to accomplish some public safety and economic development goals in what we call Bridging the Valley,” Cary Driskell, Spokane Valley city attorney, said at a Nov. 6 council meeting.
“One of the things that we were aware of was we probably needed some assistance in clearly identifying what our federal agenda should be, and how to characterize that and how to accomplish that in the best way,” he added.
The city assembled a review team comprised of city staff and council members, which examined 18 applications from various lobbying firms. The group narrowed the list to five firms, which were interviewed via phone. The team then selected Cardinal Infrastructure and D.C.-based Van Scoyoc Associates Inc. for in-person interviews at City Hall.
A review team member had prior experience with Cardinal Infrastructure through an appointment to the Spokane Transit Authority board and said the firm helped STA obtain funding for a large project, which was a factor in the city’s decision to hire the firm.
Cardinal Infrastructure’s past clients include owners and operators of Caltrain, a commuter rail line in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Valley Metro, a regional public transportation agency in metro Phoenix.
Spokane Valley Councilman Ben Wick asked if the firm is large enough to represent both STA and the city in seeking grant funding. Driskell said there was a fair amount of discussion about that scenario with the firm because the city doesn’t want to be in conflict with another agency in the area.
“We were satisfied that the nature of the funds that STA goes for are transit-oriented, and they come from different pockets than ones that we would be going for,” he said. “We were satisfied that we won’t actually get into that sort of conflict.”
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