A long wished for railroad overpass on Barker Road at Trent Avenue is at long last under construction, but Barker Road is closed in the area for the duration of the project, which is expected to be complete in the summer or fall of 2022.
The overpass will replace the at-grade BNSF Railway Corp. crossing, eliminating the need for cars to stop for passing trains. Dozens of trains pass through the busy crossing every day, making traffic backups common. The project was first presented during a Bridging the Valley study in 2006 that looked at removing at-grade crossings from Spokane to Athol, Idaho, said Engineering Manager Gloria Mantz.
Since then, the city has worked to finding enough funding, including state and federal grants, to pay for the $26 million project. The city is contributing $3.6 million of the total. Preliminary design work began in 2017 and construction started in March.
“The city is excited to be moving forward on the grade separation project,” Mantz said. “It will improve safety by separating vehicle and train traffic at a crossing that currently serves 60 freight trains and two passenger trains daily, resulting in nearly four hours of vehicle gate-down time per day.”
In addition to clearing up traffic flow, the new overpass will have an impact on the surrounding neighborhood . Trains going through the crossing will no longer have to blow their horns, which should help residents sleep better. The overpass will also provide commercial vehicles with improved access to the nearby industrial area, Mantz said.
During the design process, there was a public debate about whether there should be a standard traffic light or a roundabout at the intersection of Barker and Trent.
“The traffic analysis findings showed that both a signal and a roundabout would handle the projected traffic volumes at the intersection,” Mantz said. “However, due to the safety benefits, a better level of service and anticipated lower maintenance of a roundabout, the roundabout was the preferred traffic control for the intersection design.”
The roundabout will include three “splitter islands” for pedestrians and bicyclists where they can wait for passing traffic to clear. The construction of the roundabout and the overpass is being managed by the Washington State Department of Transportation, Mantz said.
While construction is ongoing, access to the area is limited. Vehicles are being encouraged to use Sullivan Road or Flora Road instead. Businesses on Barker Road remain open.
“The city is working with WSDOT to ensure that signage is posted for industrial and residential vehicles that need to utilize the Barker Road corridor,” she said. “The city has worked with WSDOT to highlight the fact that businesses along Barker Road have remained open and will continue to remain open to customers.”
In a separate but complementary project, the city has been widening Barker Road south of Trent.
The first phase, which was a 1.5 mile stretch of Barker from Euclid Avenue north to the BNSF tracks, was completed in 2019 for $2.6 million. A center turn lane was added, curb and gutter work was done, stormwater improvements were made, sewer lines were installed in partnership with Spokane County and water improvements were made in partnership with Consolidated Irrigation District No. 19.
The same improvements were made in the second phase, from the Spokane River Bridge north to Euclid Avenue, which began in July and was just completed. The phase was estimated to cost $3.2 million.
The third and final phase, which includes the intersection of Barker and Euclid, as well as improvements to the Union Pacific Railroad crossing there, is scheduled to begin either this fall or next summer. This phase will also include a 10-foot-wide multiuse path from just south of Trent to the Spokane River, where it will connect with the Centennial Trail. This final phase is estimated to cost $1.85 million.
The city has used a mix of city money as well as funding from Spokane County, Irrigation District No. 19 and the state and federal government to pay for the three phases.
The city made similar improvements to Barker Road between the Spokane River Bridge and Interstate 90 in recent years, Mantz said. The additional widening is meant to improve safety and plan for future traffic in the northeast industrial area and the residential neighborhoods in the area, she said.
The city also plans to make improvements to Barker Road south of Appleway Boulevard in the future. Mantz said. That will include replacing the four-way stop intersection at Barker Road and Sprague Avenue with a roundabout as well as widening Barker from Appleway to Sprague.
“This area is experiencing rapid business and residential growth and improvements will reduce traffic congestion and improve vehicle and pedestrian safety,” she said.
Nina Culver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org