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

Ranchers win suit over Spokane County’s Bigelow Gulch Road expansion

The owner of a 30-acre cattle ranch on Bigelow Gulch Road has won a $132,500 jury verdict against Spokane County.

The judgment for Frank and Gloria Bingaman, who have run cattle operations on their property for 31 years, is compensation for land taken by the county as it widens Bigelow Gulch east of the city from two lanes to a four-lane road with wide shoulders and a center turn lane.

“It’s been two-and-a-half years trying to get the county to understand what I do for a living. We have semis coming in and out of here. It’s been quite a roller coaster,” Frank Bingaman said. “I’m wore out. I tell you, I’m wore out.”

“We still maintain and believe that there were more in damages,” said Alexandria Drake, a lawyer with Dunn & Black who represented the Bingamans. “The jury disagreed, to some extent, but the Bingamans are grateful for the process working.”

Drake said her law firm represents eight other landowners on Bigelow Gulch seeking compensation from the county.

The Bingamans, who live between Forker and Argonne roads, sought $383,000 for the nearly 17,000-square-feet of land – or about a third of an acre – the county said it needed to widen the road. Originally, the county offered $10,375 for the condemned property, according to court documents.

In a statement, county engineer Chad Coles recognized the role of jurors in property condemnation cases, but praised the ongoing roadwork.

“It is not easy to be a juror as these are complex cases and there are many factors involved,” Coles said. “Coinciding with the resolution of this matter, the latest phase of improvements to Bigelow Gulch Road have been completed and now provide a safer and more accessible route … .”

The widening of Bigelow Gulch is part of the multiyear, $68 million Bigelow Gulch-Forker Road Urban Connector project to make the 8-mile corridor safer and able to handle more traffic, including freight.

To build a slope next to the road, the county had “taken and destroyed” the Bingaman’s driveway, and two access points to the property, “which was critical for cattle hauling operations in and out of their property,” according to court records. The county also took land used to load and unload feed trucks and for parking equipment.

The county relocated the Bingaman driveway, but this too led to a loss of a pasture that was “an integral part of their cattle operation,” said court documents.

“We run about and go through about 600 cattle a year. We buy them, then we grow them up and then we sell them to feed lots,” Bingaman said of his business. “It depends on what the market is.”

Some Bigelow Gulch residents decry the changing nature of what once was a rural road through the farms of Orchard Prairie, where Thomas and Margaret Doak gave the prairie its name by planting apple trees in 1879, and Pleasant Prairie, where the Rev. Joseph Cataldo purchased 1,000 acres from the Northern Pacific Railway in 1882 to help feed the students at the school he helped found that was called Gonzaga College.

The road was first paved in 1937 using funds from the New Deal-era U.S. Works Progress Administration, an early indication that its farming roots might not last.

The urban connector has been envisioned for years, and there have been many arguments to justify its construction, ranging from a desire to have a “beltway” north of town, to concerns about safety, to coming up with an alternative to the north-south freeway, which seemed like it would never be built when the county approved the connector project in 1999.

The $1.5 billion north-south freeway, now called the North Spokane Corridor, is anticipated to be completed in 2029.

In 1996, more than 13,000 cars traveled Bigelow Gulch between Market Street and Argonne Road each day, according to county figures. On that same stretch between 1991 and 1995, there were 175 car wrecks, one that led to the death of an Otis Orchards teenager in October 1995.

Though the number of vehicles didn’t grow that much – from 13,000 a day to its current peak of 16,000 a day over the next decade – the fatalities continued. From 1997 to 2017, there were five fatal collisions on the corridor between Havana and its eastern terminus at Progress Road. Another 283 collisions led to injuries.

The county anticipates the road widening project will be complete in 2022, and traffic is expected to increase to 19,000 vehicles a day, according to a 2007 environmental assessment of the project.