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Opinion >  Column

Getting There: New fees to aid failing central Spokane Valley intersections

Traffic flows through the Barker Road/I-90 interchange in July before traffic lights were replaced by roundabouts. The city of Spokane Valley is imposing traffic impact fees to raise funds for further improvements to Barker.  (Kathy Plonka)
Traffic flows through the Barker Road/I-90 interchange in July before traffic lights were replaced by roundabouts. The city of Spokane Valley is imposing traffic impact fees to raise funds for further improvements to Barker. (Kathy Plonka)

If central Spokane Valley’s intersections were a high school student, he would be sitting in the back of the class, head down, barely scraping by.

And his prospects for graduating would be grim.

A recent study of nine of those intersections along North Pines Road and Mirabeau Parkway issued a report card that gave only one of them a grade above a D.

And the study anticipated things will only get worse from there.

By 2040, the Mirabeau subarea traffic study found, five of those nine intersections will have an F rating, while the rest will get D’s or E’s.

The grades intersections get range from an A, which indicates “free-flow conditions,” to F, which means “over-capacity conditions with long delays.” A D refers to a “high density of motorists, but stable flow,” while an E is “near-capacity operations, with speeds reduced to a low but uniform speed.”

The causes of the current issues and of their expected further deterioration are the same: more development in the booming area, which means more cars, which means more frustrated drivers.

So Spokane Valley is using a new tool to compel developers to help pay for the improvements required to get area roads back to passing grades.

The City Council adopted an ordinance in December that allows Spokane Valley to charge so-called impact fees to developers.

But instead of applying fees citywide as some municipalities do, including the city of Spokane, the Valley’s ordinance requires council to approve the imposition of new fees one piece at a time.

The first area where developers are subject to a surcharge for development extends east to the Liberty Lake border, north to the Spokane River and south to the city limit. The western border of what’s known as the South Barker Corridor transportation impact fee area is a jagged line that moves back and forth on either side of Flora Road.

As of the new year, developers in that zone are charged fees that depend on the proposed land use and the amount of projected new traffic their project will create.

That money will then be spent on some $19 million worth of future improvements to Barker Road in the area.

After a unanimous vote from the City Council on Tuesday night, the city will begin imposing a similar fee structure on new construction in an area bordered by University Road to the west, Valleyway Avenue to the south, the Spokane River to the east and the BNSF rail line to the north.

That area is actually split into two distinct subareas where the fees differ significantly. In the North Pines Road subarea, which lies further to the southwest, the builder of single-family homes or duplexes would be charged $2,816 per expected peak afternoon trip. In the Mirabeau subarea, however, the cost will be just $716 per trip.

Costs are highest for single-family homes, duplexes and hotels and are significantly lower for multifamily developments, which will incentivize more dense housing.

The money raised is expected to pay for just more than half of the expected $7.67 million cost of the following changes:

  • Adding a second westbound turn lane at Pines Road and Indiana Avenue.
  • Adding an eastbound left-turn lane and a northbound right-turn lane where Pines meets the eastbound Interstate 90 ramps.
  • Reconfiguring the intersection of Pines and Mission Avenue to add a southbound right-turn lane and upgrade the traffic signal.
  • Adding a southbound right-turn and second eastbound left-turn lane at Pines and Sprague Avenue.
  • Adding a traffic signal or roundabout at Mirabeau Parkway and Mansfield Avenue.
  • Reconfiguring the turn lanes at Sullivan Road and Mission Avenue.
  • Adding a second westbound left-turn lane at Argonne Road and Trent Avenue.

Meanwhile, the city of Spokane Valley is scrambling to catch up with demand for its road infrastructure after a decade of growth that has seen some 10,000 new arrivals, bringing the population to the brink of 100,000, according to state estimates.

This summer, work is underway on a number of projects, including a $26 million job that will create a rail overpass on Barker Road and a two-lane roundabout at an adjacent intersection with Trent Avenue.

Barker is also in the midst of a three-phase project that will widen the road to three lanes and add a 10-foot shared-use path from the Spokane River to south of Trent Avenue.

Other projects include the $3 million reconstruction of the Argonne Road and Montgomery Road intersection and a $2 million job that will lay down new asphalt on Mullan Road from Broadway to Mission and improve the traffic signal at the Mullan and Mission intersection.

But while much work is underway and new impact fees promise to pay for more, some doubt whether it will be enough to give area roads a passing grade.

Only two people chimed in during a public hearing about the new fee proposal on Tuesday evening, but both expressed grave concerns about the effects more traffic is having on existing residents.

One speaker said the city was doing too little, too late. A boom in development, she said, has already snarled traffic and degraded her quality of life.

“Trying to get from point A to point B in my neighborhood is kind of hard to do,” she said.

Another speaker suggested developers should have to pay annual impact fees, instead of one-time charges, in order to meet the need for more substantial and ongoing road improvements.

“I’m living right next to an impact area,” she said.

Work to watch for

Crews working for the Washington State Department of Transportation will temporarily close several I-90 on- and off-ramps this week during overnight hours as part of a paving project between the Hamilton Street interchange and Sprague Avenue interchange. The intermittent closures will begin at 6:30 p.m. each weeknight this week and last until 6 a.m. the next day.

Freya Street between Wellesley Avenue and Upriver Drive will see single lane closures Monday for a chip-seal program.

A similar project will cause single-lane closures on Freya between 37th Avenue and Palouse Highway on Monday as well as Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

A third chip-seal project will cause single-lane closures on Southeast Boulevard between Perry Street and 29th Avenue beginning Monday through Friday.

Street preservation work will lead to full closures of Nevada Street between Francis and Wellesley Avenue on Wednesday and of Nevada between Wellesley and North Foothills Drive on Thursday.

Wall Street between Riverside and Main Avenue will be closed starting Monday for work on the City Line.

The latest phase of the Bigelow Gulch project isn’t complete, but enough work is done that Bigelow Gulch has reopened from Weile Avenue to Argonne Road south of Jensen Road. In addition, Weile Avenue from Thierman Road to Bigelow Gulch Road will reopen Tuesday.

Construction of a walking path on Adams Road from the city of Spokane Valley limits to 30th Avenue will close Adams from 32nd Avenue to the Valley limits from Monday through Friday.

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