After months of uncertainty due to funding issues, plans are finally moving forward for two large road improvement projects in Liberty Lake – the widening of the Harvard Road Interstate-90 overpass and the addition of a Henry Road I-90 overpass.
The projects were put on pause earlier this year after the passage of Initiative 976, which sought to impose $30 car tabs and take millions of dollars away from road and transit projects across the state. Then the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the state budget. Even after I-976 was declared unconstitutional, there was still uncertainty, Liberty Lake City Administrator Katy Allen said.
“There was a lot of unknowns because of the state budget,” she said. “We were kind of in that holding pattern, for a variety of reasons, for quite some time.”
Road projects were finally given the green light to move forward. Work was supposed to start on the Harvard project in mid-October, but was delayed because of the cold and snowy weather, said Washington State Department of Transportation Project Engineer Tom Brasch. The hope is to start work this week as long as overnight lows stay above freezing, he said.
“We have to do some temporary concrete barriers and temporary striping,” Brasch said.
The $3.8 million project will add one northbound lane to the Harvard overpass. It also includes the reconfiguration of the two westbound I-90 on-ramps on either side of Harvard Road to make it easier for traffic to merge onto the freeway.
“We’re going to smooth that out, lengthen the acceleration,” he said. “That’s the goal.”
The project is partially funded by Liberty Lake, and Allen said the city made efforts to keep the project moving even during the construction funding hiatus.
“Our focus was always to keep the design moving,” she said. “I can’t think of a better place we could be in right now.”
Allen said Harvard Road is a critical piece of Liberty Lake’s infrastructure.
The I-90 overpass is the only way to get over the freeway inside the city limits and has about 22,000 average daily trips.
“It’s kind of the backbone to our whole city,” she said.
“When Harvard Road shuts down, our whole city goes into gridlock.”
That can create problems for police and firefighters who need to use the route to respond to emergencies.
“It’s critical to business,” Allen said. “It’s critical to our community, it’s critical to our schools, it’s critical to our public safety.”
It has been apparent for years that something had to be done to address the congestion at the intersection of Harvard and Appleway Avenue. Intersections are rated on an A to F scale, with F being failing grade.
“We were not doing OK on the a.m. and p.m. commutes,” she said. “Our analysis shows we were not only at an F, we were at an F minus.”
The Harvard project is expected to last seven to eight months, depending on the weather.
Allen said the road will remain open during construction.
“There will be some shifting of lanes back and forth,” she said. “If there is a shutdown, it would be at night on weekends.”
The Henry overpass, which will add another critical I-90 crossing, is also moving forward, Brasch said. The plan is to advertise the project in early 2021 and start construction in late spring or early summer. The goal is to have the overpass complete by late 2021 or early 2022, again depending on the weather.
Allen said the new overpass will be a welcome addition.
“Providing the alternate route really frees up traffic,” she said. “There’s something visual and symbolic about connecting your community that’s divided by an interstate.”
Brasch said the state transportation department is pleased to be able to partner with Liberty Lake on the road projects.
“It’s a good partnership,” he said. “We got two projects out, or almost out.”
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