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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sen. Billig agrees to remove block on Spokane street funding after city pledges to build bicycle trail

Bill Braten and Dave Joyce of Sharp-Line Industries, Inc., add a stencil to a lane on Sprague Avenue indicating travel for both vehicles and bicycles, June 7, 2017, in downtown Spokane, Wash. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

State Sen. Andy Billig, a Spokane Democrat and majority leader in the state’s upper house, has agreed to remove language from this year’s transportation spending bill that would have blocked state dollars from funding Spokane road projects unless bikeways were built on or near East Sprague Avenue.

The reversal came Tuesday after a letter drafted by Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart said the city would build an east-west trail near the south landing of the University District Gateway Bridge, install “shared bike route” signs on Sprague and add the trail project to the city’s six-year transportation construction plan.

Stuckart’s letter was signed by Mayor David Condon and all City Council members except Kate Burke, who was absent due to illness but later said she supports the letter. It was sent to Billig late Monday.

“I appreciate your commitment to completing this important piece of bike infrastructure,” Billig replied in an email Tuesday morning. “I have contacted the Transportation Committee Chair this morning and asked him to remove the Sprague-related proviso language from the final version of the biennial transportation budget.”

In an interview, Billig said he added the language to the spending bill because he “was concerned about further state funding going to state projects without providing connections to those projects.”

Regardless, he was pleased with the results.

“I think the agreement from the city is positive and responsible,” Billig said. “I appreciate their collaboration as we work to make our transportation system safe for all users. There wasn’t a commitment before and now there is. They’ve committed to a timeline.”

Stuckart applauded Billig’s decision, but said Billig’s original stipulation to withhold state funds had the effect of putting the project on the fast track.

“At least now it’s more firm. It’ll move the trail project along faster, which is good for everybody. You can’t build a bicycle and pedestrian bridge without having something on either side,” he said. “It’s a good solution overall, and everybody’s really happy.”

Stuckart noted that the project is still “a couple of years away.” The letter detailed the anticipated timeline for the project: 12 to 18 months for a yet-to-begin feasibility study, followed by six to eight months of design, 18 to 36 months for right-of-way acquisition and six to eight months for construction.

With this math, the earliest the project would be completed is in late 2022.

Billig’s agreement to remove the language should bring to an end the dispute between Billig and Condon, who also lauded the resolution.

Billig added the language after discovering the work on East Sprague this year did not include bikeways on or near the major renovation. Billig, who helped secure $12 million in state funding for the $15.4 million pedestrian and bicycle bridge that lands on Sprague, had begun pushing the city to include bikeways in the project in June, months before the bridge was completed in December.

“The state made a significant investment in the U-District Bridge and we have an interest in seeing that there are safe and effective connections for pedestrians and cyclists that use the bridge,” he wrote in an email then to Katherine Miller, the city’s director of integrated capital.

As the project got closer to reality without any bike infrastructure, Billig added language to the Senate’s transportation funding bill, which was unanimously passed earlier this month, that says any state funding for the Sprague project “is contingent upon the city developing an infrastructure plan to provide an east-west safe connection for the increased bike traffic volume on Sprague Avenue and identifying funding for these connection improvements. The connection improvements may include a bike-only path reasonably adjacent to Sprague Avenue.”

The language angered Condon, who requested it be removed from the bill, and the city said years of projects would be hurt by Billig’s stipulation.

Further, the state House transportation package that passed last month includes $3 million for the road project, which the city said it hadn’t asked for and didn’t need in order to complete this year’s work.

Stuckart said the city, with Condon’s knowledge, had asked the state for $3 million for the Sprague bike trail project, not the road, and he wasn’t sure why the House’s spending bill has the reverse, with funding for roadwork not the trail.

“Our ask was for the trail, and I think there was a misreading of the ask. I don’t know where that breakdown happened, but when it left my inbox it had the trail in it,” he said. “That breakdown happened somewhere in the House of Representatives.”

Stuckart said he discussed the funding with Miller the week of Feb. 25 and with Condon the week of March 4.

When Stuckart sent the trail funding request to state Rep. Marcus Riccelli in the last week of February, it was specific to the trail. By that Friday, Riccelli’s request to the House Transportation Committee chairman, state Rep. Jake Fey, the trail was missing, and only the roadwork was mentioned.