When traffic comes to Spokane, most motorists will look to place blame on one place: City Hall.
Fair or not, elected officials bear a heavy responsibility for how our region’s transportation system works. While the city may not control the interstate or how the state spends its considerable transportation fund, it does tap property taxes to help pay for work on major arterial roads and charges $20 on vehicle registration to maintain residential roads.
In other words, the people running for City Council had better know what they’re talking about when it comes to transportation.
Karen Stratton, 60, is the incumbent for the race to represent northwest Spokane in District 3. She worked for mayors Jim West and Mary Verner before being appointed to fill the seat after Steve Salvatori resigned in 2014, and won the seat in the 2015 election. Challenger Andy Rathbun, 55, is a retired airman who served in the U.S. Air Force for 32 years.
How do you commute? How would you like to commute?
Rathbun: Now that I’m retired from the USAF/WA Air National Guard, my commute from my West Central home of 30 years to Fairchild AFB is no longer an issue for me. However, many people make this commute daily and I am glad that many of the dangerous roads and intersections on Route 2 are being addressed.
Stratton: I commute by car. I attend meetings all over the community, at all hours of the day and night. While I like having the reliability of my own vehicle, I do like the idea of walking or riding the bus to work.
Has the city council done well in helping to plan street work in its 6-year and 20-year plans? Would you do anything differently?
Rathbun: The North Spokane Corridor is the most essential transportation project for our region. Completion will alleviate crosstown and heavy freight traffic, and wear and tear on our city roads. I am not a big fan of “road diets,” but I do appreciate increased pedestrian safety. I am most focused on street and alley surfacing as my priority.
Stratton: While it is a challenge to determine and plan significant future street projects, I think council does a good job staying focused and on track – thanks to city staff. I do think Garland Avenue, from Monroe west to Northwest Boulevard, needs to be considered and should be on our radar.
What big transportation projects in District 3 remain necessary but unfunded?
Rathbun: West Broadway is almost undrivable in places and is in desperate need of repair. West Boone is also in bad shape. As is covered in subsequent questions, the northern neighborhood (Indian Trail and surrounding areas) arterials are stressed. Again, I am focused on street and alley surfacing as my priority.
Stratton: District 3 did get funding to repair and pave Falls Avenue, which leads to Lower Crossing, one of the oldest neighborhoods in West Central. The road had become unsafe for residents and emergency vehicles. While a portion of West Broadway Avenue is included in the 6-year plan, certain repairs, paving and other enhancements should continue on Broadway in the West Central neighborhood. We need to stay focused on transportation challenges in the North Indian Trail neighborhood and Five Mile, to include pedestrian enhancements, crosswalks, sidewalks.
Is the renovation of North Monroe a success story for the city? Or is it a disastrous experiment that should never be repeated?
Rathbun: Having driven on and around Monroe for 30 years, I am experiencing more difficulty with east-west crossing than ever before as a driver. However, pedestrian visibility and safety is much better now. I am not as aggressive as my opponent when it comes to calling for these types of major changes in all neighborhoods.
Stratton: It is important to note that the North Monroe project was an important component of the Emerson-Garfield neighborhood plan. Residents wanted a business corridor that was safe, vibrant and pedestrian friendly. While the renovation was challenging on many levels, the end result I believe has been successful. Both business and pedestrian activity has increased along the corridor, and walkers feel safer with the addition of enhanced crosswalks, street lighting and the pedestrian crossing light at Monroe and Montgomery.
Five Mile Road, the main route into the growing neighborhood of the same name, was fully closed to traffic for months this summer while the city built a roundabout. This coincided with work on the other two ways in and out of the neighborhood, on Indian Trail and Country Homes Boulevard. Did the city do a good job planning this project and integrating it with other road work?
Rathbun: I have many friends in these northern neighborhoods, and traffic congestion is an issue of much concern. While I appreciate this opportunity to play armchair traffic engineer, my biggest concern as a council member is that projects are executed in the most cost-efficient and safe manner possible.
Stratton: This project has been extremely frustrating for the Five Mile neighborhood. And while I am not a street engineer or planner, I do believe the city could have done a better job coordinating with the other projects, communicating with residents and signage in the affected areas.
Joe Albi and the surrounding area is about to see a lot of work, with improved sports facilities and a new junior high school. What should the city do to prepare for, or mitigate, congestion that will come with the work?
Rathbun: Spokane is experiencing growing pains. This is never easy and I won’t be a politician that promises a bumper sticker solution.
Stratton: Repeat what we did on the North Monroe project: accurate signage of alternate routes, consistent communication with neighboring residents and businesses, and a project manager on site to mitigate the daily challenges that come with large projects like this one.
Are you voting in favor of Initiative 976?
Rathbun: I will vote no. While a $30 tab fee seems like a good idea, I’ll happily pay my fair share to make sure that our major transportation projects are completed and keep our families safe on the roads.
Stratton: I oppose this initiative because it would repeal the authority of our transportation benefit district to impose vehicle fees that are dedicated to local residential street improvements, pedestrian projects, including constructing missing sidewalks and funding sidewalks around schools. Statewide, we would see a revenue loss that could reduce funding from the Washington state Department of Transportation investments in the Spokane area.
In the city
The $1.3 million grind and overlay project on 33rd Avenue from Division to Bernard is nearly complete. The project also replaced a sewer main, water distribution main and water transmission main.
Normandie Street will be closed between Central and Dalke avenues through Wednesday due to a $995,000 project to upgrade and modernize a well’s building that houses a pump and motor.
The parking lane along Fourth Avenue between Wall and Lincoln streets is closed to accommodate $375,000 in work related to the city’s ongoing city gateway beautification project, which includes landscaping work near Interstate 90. The left turn lane on Maple Street at Fifth Avenue will be periodically closed.
Work is nearly complete on the 2.2 million-gallon sewer and stormwater tank by the downtown Spokane Public Library. Lincoln Street remains closed between Main Avenue and Spokane Falls Boulevard as crews construct the flow control chamber. On Friday the right lane of Spokane Falls Boulevard between Post and Monroe streets will be closed to celebrate the project’s completion and opening of the plaza built on top. The $20 million project was paid for by the city’s utility funds.
Regular maintenance continues on the city’s roadways. Crack sealing has begun on Olympic Avenue east of A Street. Work is ongoing on the grind and overlay work on Hamilton Street between Trent and Desmet avenues.
Pullman adds direct flight to Seattle
Alaska Airlines has added a fifth direct flight from the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport to Seattle. Beginning Nov. 6, the flight will depart Pullman at 1:30 p.m. every day except Tuesday. The airport recently completed a $154 million expansion that added a new runway.
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