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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Getting There: Spokane ramped up arterial road work in 2020

Spokane drivers have new pavement to ride on and a turnout lane, at left, to view the falls on Spokane Falls Boulevard near Monroe Street, seen Wednesday.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Spokane drivers have new pavement to ride on and a turnout lane, at left, to view the falls on Spokane Falls Boulevard near Monroe Street, seen Wednesday. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Those of us who spent much of 2020 safely locked away in our homes can look forward to fewer potholes on the city of Spokane’s streets in 2021.

As you and I were failing to bring our fledgling sourdough starters to life, the city of Spokane was quickly pivoting to increase investment in arterial road maintenance after the pandemic encroached on Washington.

The result?

The city expects to complete maintenance projects on about 60 miles of arterial roads in 2020 and 2021, about double what it had initially planned.

Recognizing that roads would be less clogged by traffic as many workers were told to stay home, the city added about $10 million of projects to its arterial maintenance schedule for this year and next.

Much of that work was outsourced to private contractors, who struggled during the initial shutdown in March and needed an economic lifeline.

Roads that received some love this fall included:

• Indian Trail Road from Francis to Kathleen;

• Eagle Ridge from Shelby Ridge to Meadow Lane;

• Bernard from High Drive to 29th;

• Nevada from Francis to Sharpsburg;

• Regal from 55th to 46th Avenues;

• Nevada from Magnesium to Holland.

When I’m not writing this column in the absence of development and transportation guru Ted McDermott – who had the audacity to take time off to help care for his newborn baby – I’m the Spokesman’s Spokane city government reporter. So, naturally, I wondered under what couch cushion the city found $10 million to fund extra road work in the middle of a pandemic that has ravaged the economy and forced the city to tighten its spending.

Essentially, explained city spokeswoman Marlene Feist, the city had access to the money because it wasn’t spent on other projects that had to be pushed back. And future revenue for work on city arterials is reliable thanks to the tax levy approved by voters in 2014, which does not expire until 2034.

“Projects we couldn’t do because of the pandemic, we invested into street maintenance, and then we’ll backfill those with new money coming in the door,” Feist said.

Among the most notable delays this year was the $3.6 million rebuild of East Sprague between Division and Grant Street, the final phase of a yearslong renovation of the arterial. That project, now slated for 2021, would have gotten off to a late start due to the pandemic, and city officials feared it could stretch across two construction seasons and put an undue burden on nearby businesses.

Despite the pandemic, a number of other major projects made headway or wrapped up in 2020.

Work on Hamilton Street, once a hell- scape of impossible left turns, kicked off in 2020 and will continue into 2021. The construction created headaches for drivers this year, but it resulted in safety improvements at four of six planned intersections this year, with the remaining two to be tackled next year.

The intersection of Hamilton Street and Mission Avenue now has protected left turn signals at all four points. Now, it may be possible to turn from Mission onto Hamilton and into the Safeway parking lot without coming perilously close to death, or at the very least having a middle finger pointed in your direction.

In normal times, the Hamilton Street corridor is traveled by about 30,000 cars each day, according to the city.

The city also completed its Cincinnati Street greenway project, refurbishing the road to make it friendlier to bikes and pedestrians, and launched the second phase of the South Gorge Trail project, a 10-foot wide pedestrian and bike trail through Peaceful Valley.

Construction on the Post Street Bridge began this year and is on track to wrap up in 2022, though it will remain closed while work continues.

Work around the city’s new combined sewer overflow tank on Spokane Falls Boulevard has made the road more drivable.

With all of that infrastructure work moving forward, it would be a shame not to use it. So when it’s my turn to get the vaccine, I’ll emerge like Tom Hanks in “Castaway” and hop in the car – or on my bike – and enjoy these resplendent streets. After nine months working from home, I yearn for a commute.

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