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Getting There: Hamilton corridor to get long-awaited but disruptive update

A pickup truck waits on Mission Avenue to turn south onto Hamilton Street on Friday. The Hamilton intersections with Mission, Indiana and North Foothills will get protected left-turn signals (arrows) for all four directions.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
A pickup truck waits on Mission Avenue to turn south onto Hamilton Street on Friday. The Hamilton intersections with Mission, Indiana and North Foothills will get protected left-turn signals (arrows) for all four directions. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Ted McDermott The Spokesman-Review

What intersection do you “avoid for fear of serious bodily harm?” asked The Spokesman-Review in 1999.

The answer from readers, resoundingly, by a 4-to-1 margin, in the admittedly unscientific survey was Mission Avenue and Hamilton Street.

At the heart of their complaints was the difficulty of making left turns, and they “urged the city to add left-turn lights, saying their absence encourages the running of red lights,” the paper’s reporter wrote at the time.

After delaying action for more than 20 years, today the city will at last grant those concerned drivers their wish, breaking ground on a five-month project to add dedicated left-turn pockets and signals along the Hamilton Street corridor from Desmet Avenue to North Foothills Drive.

Here’s what the project will include:

  • Hamilton’s intersections with Mission and Indiana avenues and North Foothills will get protected left-turn signals in all four directions at the intersection.
  • Hamilton’s intersections with Sharp and Illinois avenues will get protected left-turn signals in the north- and southbound directions.
  • The Hamilton and Desmet intersection, which currently has a pedestrian-activated rapid flashing beacon, will be reconfigured to prohibit all left-turn movements and allow pedestrians to use crosswalks on both the north and south sides of the intersection.

When the $3.3 million project is completed, the approximately 30,000 cars that travel through the corridor each day will move more freely, easily and safely, said Marlene Feist, director of strategic development for the Public Works Department.

But between now and the end of November, when the work is scheduled to be finished, drivers can expect the opposite: delays and detours.

While one lane heading in each direction will remain open on Hamilton throughout the project, closures of the cross streets will be required, Feist said.

For the next two weeks, Mission, from Hamilton to Columbus, and Desmet, from Cincinnati to Columbus, will be closed, while Hamilton will be reduced to one lane in each direction at the Mission and Desmet intersections.

Crews will aim to complete work at the Mission and Desmet intersections in August. They will then move to Sharp and Illinois, before tackling Indiana and North Foothills.

Meanwhile, two other projects are underway one block to the west, on Cincinnati Avenue, where the city has been building its first greenway and the Spokane Transit Authority recently kicked off work on the coming bus rapid transit City Line.

As part of that work, crews will be paving the intersection of North Foothills and Cincinnati this week, so drivers should expect lane closures there, too.

Feist said those projects, while distinct from the coming Hamilton corridor improvement, are part of a broader effort to improve safety and amenities not only for cars but also for bicyclists, pedestrians, bus riders and others in the area around Gonzaga University.

The greenway – a street that’s open to cars and, in this case, public transit, but that prioritizes non-motorized modes of transportation – is key to maintaining Hamilton as a north-south corridor for traffic, while also improving safety in an area that “probably has more pedestrians than anywhere in the city,” Feist said.

While the transit infrastructure in the area just north of Gonzaga will be transformed over the next couple of years with the completion of the corridor project, the greenway and the City Line, which will cross Hamilton at Mission beginning in 2022, Feist said there are no existing plans to put the street on the kind of “road diet” that North Monroe Street recently underwent.

In part, Feist said, that has to do with the “very different conditions” on the two streets, including Hamilton’s greater width and nearly twice as heavy traffic volumes. But she didn’t rule out an eventual, more drastic change.

“The only time it might be feasible is when the North Spokane Corridor is finished,” she said.

When that happens, she noted, some of Hamilton’s traffic will likely move to the long-awaited and oft-delayed freeway, perhaps freeing up the street for a more drastic makeover. Soon, though, drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to reap the benefits of the city’s less drastic but still significant and long-awaited changes to the area.

Highway 41 work begins

Crews got to work last week on what will be a three-year project to expand Idaho Highway 41 from two lanes to four lanes between Post Falls and Rathdrum.

“Expansion will better serve the drivers who use this route every day, which in some sections is nearly 20,000 motorists,” Ryan Hawkins, resident engineer with the Idaho Transportation Department, said in a news release. “The existing highway will essentially become the southbound lanes of the new highway, allowing much of the work to be constructed with minimal impact.”

New lanes will be added east of the existing lanes, along with a wide path for bicyclists and pedestrians. Outside of city limits, the lanes will be divided by a grassy median.

An overpass will be built to carry traffic safely over the railroad tracks that cross the highway just north of Hayden Avenue. The other crossing, south of Hayden, will be removed.

Construction of the overpass will be the first step in expanding the highway, with the northbound bridge to be completed in spring 2021 and the southbound bridge to be finished in early 2022.

The project is one of a number in the works to expand the transportation capacity of booming Kootenai County.

Work to watch for

The Washington State Department of Transportation will continue work this week on I-90’s Medical Lake/S.R. 902 interchange, which is in the midst of a major expansion and where crews are at work on a new roundabout at the tops of the eastbound ramps.

Spokane County will also continue work on a nearby and related Geiger Boulevard project from Hayford Road to Soda Road. Drivers can expect the road to be open this week, though with flaggers possibly present as crews continue work.

The intersection of Rowan Avenue and Market Street will be closed starting today for a $3.5 million sewer-relocation project being completed to make way for the North Spokane Corridor.

Northbound Market Street traffic will be detoured to Haven Street via Diamond Avenue. During this work, Haven Street will serve both southbound and northbound traffic.