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

Getting There: Spokane Valley to select design following $1.2 million federal grant for Pines Road rail project

The railroad crossing at Pines Road photographed on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Spokane Valley is moving forward with another at-grade intersection improvement project at Pines Road/BNSF railroad tracks. The $29 million proposed project calls for construction of an underpass and a roundabout. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
By Amy Edelen and Rebecca White The Spokesman-Review

More than a year ago, Spokane Valley secured funding for a project to separate rail and vehicle traffic on Barker Road and Trent Avenue. Now, city officials are one step closer to improving safety at another rail crossing.

Spokane Valley is moving forward with plans for a $29 million project to replace a rail crossing at Pines Road and the BNSF tracks with an underpass to improve safety for vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians.

The Spokane Valley City Council is expected to select a design for the project Tuesday, which follows an announcement earlier this month from Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers that Spokane Valley received a $1.2 million federal grant for the project.

“Separating the BNSF railway from the Pines Road intersection is an important step to keep Spokane Valley moving,” Cantwell said in a statement. “This project will reduce traffic delays, improve safety and access, and increase the quality of life for residents and commuters throughout the community.”

More than 16,400 vehicles per day cross the tracks on Pines Road, which was rated the top road-rail conflict in the state, according to the Washington State Joint Transportation Committee.

Spokane Valley City Councilman Ben Wick said in addition to vehicle traffic, more than 60 trains cross the intersection daily, creating traffic slowdowns and noise issues for the surrounding areas as well as safety issues for police and firefighters who need to quickly respond to emergencies.

“This intersection is truly the crossroad for the region,” he said.

Spokane Valley conducted several public meetings since 2017 to discuss the options for a roundabout or traffic signal on Trent Avenue. That year, it awarded a design contract to Spokane-based engineering firm HDR and David Evans and Associates, Inc., which analyzed and compared the alternatives in terms of cost, impacts to nearby properties, safety and construction timelines.

In addition to selecting a roundabout or traffic signal, city staff weighed whether to construct the traffic signal or roundabout directly north of the underpass on Pines Road, or an option that traverses east before feeding into Trent Avenue.

HDR Project Manager Scott Marshall said constructing an intersection north of the underpass would be more costly and require Trent Avenue to be lowered 10 to 12 feet. It would take two years to construct, require 13 property acquisitions and reduce traffic to one lane in each direction.

Spokane Valley Mayor Rod Higgins said constructing a roundabout is the preferred option for the city because it has fewer conflict points between vehicles and isn’t impacted by power outages.

Higgins said there were some initial concerns about large trucks traveling through a roundabout, but the Washington State Department of Transportation indicated truck travel has been fairly smooth through the U.S. Highway 2 roundabout in Airway Heights.

Many roundabouts are also designed with a truck apron, which is a raised section of pavement around the central island that acts as an extra lane for large vehicles, according to WSDOT.

“They might have to drive over the berm or block a lane of traffic, but these are things that motorists tend to get used to,” Higgins said. “Once everyone gets used to (the roundabouts), they work better than a lighted intersection.”

The East Valley School District and the Spokane Valley police and fire departments all indicated support for a roundabout east of Pines Road.

“The reason they liked alternative two was because of the flatter grades that alignment provides,” said Gloria Mantz, engineering manager for Spokane Valley, at a June 4 council meeting. “In addition to that, the school district preferred alternative two because it moves the intersection away from the school, which was a big plus for them.”

The city has secured more than $6.3 million in funding for the project, including the $1.2 million Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement federal grant.

Higgins said the project has been in the works for eight years and the federal grant is one of several needed to complete construction.

He hopes it illustrates to other grant-awarding government agencies that the city is one step closer to obtaining full funding for the project.

“Money attracts money,” he said. “We’re hoping this makes other agencies take a good, long look at this.”

In a statement last week, McMorris Rodgers said the improved traffic flow from trains and vehicles would likely bring an estimated $1.3 billion in economic output to Spokane County.

“Congratulations to the City of Spokane Valley,” she said. “This grant is a testament to your commitment to improving our community for generations to come.”

Once the City Council approves and finalizes the project design, the next step is to obtain approval from WSDOT.

Construction on the project is anticipated to begin in 2023.

Bicycle Advisory Board’s public bicycle ride

The city of Spokane’s bicycle advisory board is holding a “mobile meeting” on Tuesday at 6 p.m. to discuss potential route options for the Children of the Sun Trail, which will span the length of the proposed North Spokane Corridor.

Members of the public are invited to join the bicycle ride at the north lot of Liberty Park at Third Avenue and Liberty Park Place, or a midway point at Greene Street and South Riverton Avenue at 6:45 p.m.

“We usually do one of these (roving meetings) a year,” said Colin Quinn-Hurst, bicycle and pedestrian planner for the city of Spokane. “This one is to figure out where the Children of the Sun Trail is going to go next, so our task is to visit a few different alignment options.”

The ride ends at Bennidito’s Pizza at 1909 E. Sprague Ave., where the bicycle advisory board will provide pizza to attendees and hold a post-ride discussion.

WSDOT, the city and Eastern Washington University are conducting a charette – an interactive workshop for the community – to share ideas about the Children of the Sun Trail. It will be held Saturday, July 13, at Sheridan Elementary at 3737 E. 5th Ave. from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.