The North Spokane Corridor is on track to be complete in 2029, and “five big projects” building the freeway will begin in 2020, said Mike Gribner, eastern region administrator for the Washington State Department of Transportation.
“We can see the finish line from here. Finally,” Gribner told about 100 people who gathered on the northbound lane of the highway below the Francis Avenue overpass Friday morning.
The $1.5 billion freeway is more than halfway done, with 5.5 miles of the 10.5-mile road completed and open to traffic between Wandermere and Hillyard. Friday’s event marked the completion of the freeway from the Freya interchange south to Central Avenue, but motorists won’t be able to use the road until the end of 2022, when the freeway will meet its interchange with Wellesley Avenue.
Work on the freeway so far has taken place outside of city limits in relatively open country. But as the freeway is completed over the next decade, it will charge through Spokane and its neighborhoods, and over Spokane Community College to its terminus at Interstate 90.
The completed freeway is expected to carry 150,000 vehicles a day, comparable to I-90.
Gribner, like many of the other 12 speakers at the event, stressed that the project is “fully funded” and no longer a “mythical creature.”
“It’s not actually a unicorn,” Gribner said. “We’re fully funded and about to start the push to complete the project.”
The north-south freeway was first envisioned in 1946 as a way to ferry the growing ranks of residents in the northern suburbs to the city core, but work didn’t begin until the Legislature allocated $3.9 million for design work and $19 million for purchasing right-of-way in 1999. The final piece of the funding puzzle came in 2015 when state legislators put $879 million toward finishing the southern half of the freeway.
State Rep. Marcus Riccelli, a Spokane Democrat, said before the highway was funded, the Spokane region was getting back 80 cents for every dollar it contributed to state transportation funding.
“Now we’re getting $1.30 back, which I think is beneficial,” he said.
Representatives of U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell praised the project, and spoke of the bipartisan effort it took to fund the freeway. Spokane Mayor David Condon and Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner also told of the partisan cooperation needed to foot the bill.
Roger Flint, an executive at Parametrix and president of the Spokane Area Good Roads Association, said the roads group has been in Spokane for 116 years, and “half of that has been advocating for this project right here.”
Spokane County Commissioner Al French put the freeway’s completion date in the starkest terms, and earned a chuckle from the audience.
“It’s a dream of mine to be able to ride from I-90 clear to Wandermere in something other than a hearse,” he said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.