The oversize check displayed on the stage said it all: $53,425,000 made out to the Spokane Transit Authority from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
STA has known the huge sum was coming to fully fund a long-awaited bus rapid transit line through downtown since April, when the federal government allocated the money for the project. But on Tuesday, the award became official and STA got direct access to the money.
A large number of dignitaries were on hand to celebrate what more than one of them referred to as a “game changer” for the city. They also referred to the coming streetcar-like, fixed-route, zero-emission bus line, known for years as the Central City Line, by a new name: the City Line.
K. Jane Williams, acting director of the Federal Transit Administration, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican who represents Eastern Washington in the U.S. House, joined Susan Meyer, STA’s chief executive, and city Councilwoman Candace Mumm and county Commissioner Al French on a stage in the transit agency’s Boone Northwest Garage to celebrate the official award from the FTA’s Small Starts program.
The 68,000-square-foot garage was a fitting setting for the announcement, Meyer said, since it will be the “future home” of the 60-foot articulated electric buses that will ply the City Line from Coeur d’Alene Park in Browne’s Addition to Spokane Community College on the city’s far east side, passing through downtown, the University District, the Logan Neighborhood and Chief Garry Park along the way.
While STA estimates it will spend $92.2 million to construct the new transit line, the money officially awarded Tuesday will combine with some $20 million in STA money and about $17 million in state funds to fully fund the project.
French, who is serving his fifth term as chair of the STA board of directors, said while the new line may sound expensive, it has been “right-sized” for Spokane and is “a project that will not incur debt.”
The idea of adding rapid transit in Spokane has been around since at least 1999, when an ambitious downtown master plan envisioned a system of light rail and trolleys. After more than a decade of downsizing and altering those ambitions, plans for what was known until Tuesday as the Central City Line began coming together in 2011.
Now that funding is officially in line, STA anticipates construction on the 6-mile route will begin in May and that City Line buses will start running in 2022.
Once they do, Meyer said they will run so frequently “you don’t need a schedule. You will just go to the station and know a bus will come.”
During peak morning and evening hours, buses will come every 7
The route will include 20 stations, including aabout a half-dozen center-island stations, as well as shelters with real-information about bus arrival times on display. That will add to the route’s “sense of permanence,” Meyer said.
Williams, the acting FTA head, praised the project as a “great example of successful state, local and federal transit project.” She touted the benefits for “residents along this line” while also arguing the positive effects will be felt citywide, with City Line expected to “generate $175 million in economic impact over the next 25 years.”
McMorris Rodgers said the benefits of the new rapid bus service will be many, including contributing to a cleaner environment, improving accessibility for people with disabilities and helping students at the various schools along the route, including Gonzaga University, SCC and the Spokane campuses of Eastern Washington University and Washington State University.
The lawmaker also praised Meyer for finding the right rapid transit project for Spokane – and one that received local support in the form of 56% approval for a November 2016 measure that increased local sales taxes to help fund the STA’s 10-year “Moving Forward” plan.
While the City Line is a key element of “Moving Forward,” it’s not the only element. STA also is working to improve various elements of local transit to expand and improve service.
But with bus rapid transit set to start moving east-west in the next couple of years, Brandon Rapez-Betty, STA communications and customer service director, said work is underway to improve seven existing bus corridors around the city by adding real-time information and shelters along their routes and by increasing the frequency of service.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the number of station planned along the City Line. It will have 20 stations, including about a half-dozen center-island stations.