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Opinion >  Column

Getting There: STA plans expanded service along I-90, all the way to CDA

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 15, 2020

A patron boards a bus at the downtown Spokane Transit Authority plaza on Monday.  (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-R)
A patron boards a bus at the downtown Spokane Transit Authority plaza on Monday. (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-R)

Want to take the bus from Spokane to Coeur d’Alene?

Here’s hoping you have 7 hours, 40 minutes to spare – and don’t mind staying up all night.

That’s what it takes to get from the Spokane Transit Authority’s downtown Plaza to Kootenai County’s Riverstone Transit Center, according to Google Maps, when the trip was entered near the end of a recent work day.

The fastest route had a hypothetical rider leaving just before midnight and arriving at 6:51 a.m. And along the way, he or she would have to catch STA, Jefferson Lines and CityLink buses.

But the journey from the Lilac City to the Lake City should be considerably simpler if STA can pull off a plan to add service between the two.

Back in 2010, the Connect Spokane study identified a Coeur d’Alene bus and frequent service on the Interstate 90 corridor as a priority. Five years later, a $650,000 grant helped pay for preliminary engineering for the connection.

The intercity line got even more concrete support and formally became part of STA’s plans a year later, when voters approved the STA Moving Forward plan, which levied a small sales tax to fund a slate of projects for the agency to implement over a 10-year time frame.

Included was a two-year pilot project that would aim to establish frequent high-performance transit between Spokane, Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene by 2025.

STA Moving Forward also features a slate of other projects designed to boost service and amenities between Spokane and the Idaho state line, including express routes to and from Liberty Lake, a new transit center at Mirabeau Point in Spokane Valley and an expanded Liberty Lake park-and-ride.

As STA charts its future, it has bundled those projects along the I-90 corridor together and is seeking public input about how to proceed.

In a short online survey that’s open through Wednesday, STA is asking current and potential bus riders a variety of questions that will help guide how the agency implements plans along the interstate, en route to Coeur d’Alene, that will cost an estimated $15 million.

Doing so will involve both “refining some of the parts of the STA Moving Forward plan and also looking beyond” it, said Brandon Rapez-Betty, the agency’s communications and customer services director.

Much remains to be decided about how bolstered bus service along the corridor will look, but Rapez-Betty said STA’s aim is to use the transit agency as a “tool to reduce congestion” and boost ridership in some of the fastest-growing stretches of the Inland Northwest.

STA is considering adding two new facilities: a transit center somewhere between Pines and Sullivan roads, and a new park-and-ride facility between Barker Road and the Idaho border.

Also under consideration is how exactly to renovate or expand the popular Mirabeau park-and-ride.

Those facility improvements would lead to expansion of service throughout the I-90 corridor, Rapez-Betty said.

As STA looks to expand service along the interstate and into Idaho, it’s looking for ways to “increase its appeal to more customers,” Rapez-Betty said by email. “Ridership responds to more frequent service, increased parking capacity and better bus stops. Running service earlier in the morning and later at night has also been an important aspect of addressing commutes.”

If STA implements everything currently included in the Moving Forward plan, the Spokane Regional Transportation Council estimates an additional 108,000 annual trips could shift to public transit along the I-90 corridor, Rapez-Betty said.

“What we’re talking about is a package of improvements along the corridor, not specifically one route,” he said.

But the route to Coeur d’Alene and back would represent the most significant addition of those being considered.

It will also involve – and require – cooperation from partners in Kootenai County, though Rapez-Betty acknowledged “we haven’t really defined the parameters of the partnership.”

Jody Bieze, Kootenai County’s director of public transportation, said while she has received the public STA survey about “their intent to want to connect,” she hasn’t been in formal communication with STA about how the county might be involved in making that connection a reality.

And while she acknowledged public transportation “can be beneficial” in general, Bieze also noted that she is “not the authority that would determine whether” STA’s proposed bus line becomes a reality in her county. Instead, she said, she would take the proposal to various governmental bodies in the county, such as the county commission, the Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization and the city councils of Post Falls, Hayden and Coeur d’Alene, for their consideration.

She noted, though, that while “there are some local taxes” local jurisdictions can tap to fund public transportation, “Kootenai County doesn’t have … any kind of use tax currently” nor does the state directly fund public transportation.

For that reason, Rapez-Betty floated the idea of approaching the Idaho Legislature directly for aid as “one alternative” that may be pursued, though he noted the job doing so would be left to STA’s partners in North Idaho.

Questions about funding on the Washington side of the state line could also come into play.

While the Moving Forward plan currently targets 2025 as the start date for the Coeur d’Alene pilot project, the STA board of directors is in the process of adjusting its timeline to respond to revenue shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic. That could mean the route isn’t implemented until 2026, Rapez-Betty said.

In short, much like the existing bus route between the two cities, adding frequent and direct service between Spokane and Coeur d’Alene will likely take a while – and it won’t exactly be a straightforward venture.

Work to watch for

Nevada Street between Francis and Sharpsburg avenues will see lane closures starting this week, as crews work on a $2 million grind-and-overlay project on Indian Trail Road between Francis and Kathleen avenues. This project will repave these following arterials: Indian Trail Road from Francis Avenue to Kathleen Aavenues; Nevada Street from Francis to Sharpsburg Avenue; and Nevada Street from Holland Avenue to Magnesium Road.

Crews will be grinding pavement on Eagle Ridge Boulevard between Shelby Street and Meadow Lane this week as part of a $1.7 million grind-and-overlay project. The street will remain open with flaggers directing traffic.

Due to a $1 million water and sewer installation project, Soda Road is closed between Geiger Boulevard and Electric Avenue, and Geiger Boulevard is closed between Electric Avenue and Spring Road.

Hamilton Street remains reduced to one lane in each direction as part of a $3.3 million project. Crews are working at the Sharp and Illinois Avenue intersections. Illinois will be closed to traffic west of Hamilton Street. Access to businesses will be maintained.

Haven Street will be closed at Wellesley Avenue for a wastewater repair south of Hoffman Avenue.

First Avenue will be reduced to one lane between Wall and Washington Street and both Stevens and Washington Street will have lane closures at the First Avenue intersections through Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. for Avista work.

The intersection of Ralph Street and Upriver Drive will be closed for two weeks as part of a $5.6 million project to relocate city utilities during North Spokane Corridor construction. In addition, crews are working at Cleveland Avenue from Regal to Market streets and Ralph Street from Fairview to Jackson avenues.

Work begins this week on Phase 2 of the South Gorge Trail in Peaceful Valley. Clarke Avenue will be closed from Riverside Avenue to Elm Street with local traffic only. This project will involve construction of a 10-foot-wide pedestrian and bike trail, water main and pavement reconstruction of Clarke Avenue, and storm water mitigation at various locations.

Progress Road will remain closed at Forker Road through Sept. 30.

Work on the City Line continues in Browne’s Addition, on the western and northern sides of Coeur d’Alene Park and on Cannon Street between Third and Fourth avenues.

Crews will be working through Thursday from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. on I-90 from the Sprague Avenue interchange to the Argonne Road interchange. Drivers should expect delays.

The Freya Street eastbound I-90 on-ramp is closed, and drivers will be detoured to the Custer on-ramp.

Crews are working to install five new ramp meters on I-90. Eastbound meters will be installed at Walnut Street, Monroe Street, Division Street and Hamilton Street. A westbound meter will be added at Division (Browne) Street.

The Post Street and East Trent bridges are both closed for major repairs.

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