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

State puts portion of North Spokane freeway on hold in response to I-976

City dump trucks unload dirt at a construction site for the North Spokane Corridor on Oct. 24, 2017. Observers say the ongoing court battle over Initiative 976 could further delay completion of the long-awaited, $1.5 billion freeway project. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

More than $90 million in Spokane-area transportation funding has been delayed due to last month’s passage of Initiative 976 by Washington state voters.

Topping the list is work on the North Spokane Corridor, also known as the north-south freeway, according to a list released by the Washington state Department of Transportation. Between $45 million and $50 million in work to construct the freeway between Sprague Avenue and the Spokane River has been deferred.

The measure, which passed last month with nearly 53% of the vote, is set to limit car tabs to $30 a year, eliminate a host of programs that fund local transportation projects and dismantle some transit agencies. Following the Nov. 5 election, Gov. Jay Inslee ordered WSDOT to postpone projects that hadn’t yet begun construction while lawmakers decide how to deal with the $4 billion hole created by the measure as estimated by the state budget office.

Last week, a King County Superior Court judge temporarily halted the Dec. 5 implementation of I-976 to give time to Seattle, King County and others to make their legal case against the measure. On Monday afternoon, Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office filed an emergency motion with the Washington Supreme Court to have that injunction struck down until the state’s highest court can decide the appeal of that decision.

The injunction “overrides the will” of the more than 1 million voters who supported the initiative, the emergency motion contends.

Other delayed Spokane projects include up to $15 million for the Children of the Sun bicycle and walking path, which is part of the North Spokane Corridor; up to $11 million in work on Interstate 90 between Barker and Harvard roads; and up to $10 million in work on the Medical Lake interchanges on I-90.

Grants anticipated by local jurisdictions also were deferred, including a $780,000 grant to rehabilitate the Spokane, Spangle & Palouse Railway tracks between Marshall and Oakesdale, and $500,000 for the Spokane Airport Transload Facility, which transfers shipments between trucks and rail cars and is designed to attract aerospace and manufacturing industries to the West Plains.

The Spokane Transit Authority also will see delays in funding. A $2.3 million grant to buy new buses and improve the Cheney high-performance transit corridor has been deferred, as well as a $360,000 grant to replace and purchase eight vanpool vehicles. Spokane County’s Commute Trip Reduction program was expecting a $112,000 grant to purchase a Liberty Lake shuttle.

When King County Superior Court Judge Marshall Ferguson ordered the state to continue collecting registration fees, he argued that Seattle and others had demonstrated that “they are likely to prevail on the merits” of their argument against I-976. They claimed that the measure violated the state constitution because the ballot measure’s title was misleading to voters.

Besides King County and the city of Seattle, the plaintiffs also include the Garfield County Transportation Authority, the Washington State Transit Association, the Association of Washington Cities, the Port of Seattle, Intercity Transit, Amalgamated Transit Union Legislative Council of Washington and Michael Rogers, a Lacey, Washington, man who has cerebral palsy and depends on public transit to get to his job in Seattle.

Ferguson set a Thursday deadline for the plaintiffs to make their case against the measure, which was spearheaded by Tim Eyman, a longtime anti-tax activist who is running for governor.