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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: Spokane City Council gives its blessing for improvements on congested U.S. 195 corridor

By Julien A. Luebbers The Spokesman-Review

The Spokane City Council recently gave its stamp of approval to planned improvements along the bustling U.S. 195 corridor that has drawn concern from transportation planners about congestion and safety.

City lawmakers adopted the results of the U.S. 195/I-90 Transportation Study on June 20th that calls for affordable improvements to the highway to accommodate future growth.

The Spokane Regional Transport Council, which led the interagency effort, adopted the final report in December of last year.

The study was commissioned to examine and propose “more practical solutions” to growth and safety issues along the U.S. 195, according to SRTC Principal Transportation Planner Ryan Stewart.

Prior plans had included interchanges at every road crossing, said Inga Note, senior traffic planning engineer at the City of Spokane. Costs could have reached more than $400 million.

The trouble, according to Note, is that the community cannot afford those projects.

“We wanted to identify some lower cost improvements that could take the place of that prior plan,” Note said.

The U.S. 195 corridor has long drawn the concern of transportation planners as housing developments have increased stress on the system.

In early 2020, Mike Gribner, administrator of WSDOT’s Eastern Region, urged the city to halt developments in the area until they could deal with the “crisis in management of safety within the corridor.” The letter outlined certain measures that WSDOT could take to force the city to come to grips with exploding growth along the corridor.

The resulting plan is intended to identify how to affordably solve the problems planners have with the highway.

“The intent was to try to get all of the agencies on the same page as to what the future of the corridor would look like,” said Note.

The 96-page final report outlines current and projected conditions, recommended projects and recommended improvements. The final list includes 26 items: projects of varying size, scope and impact sorted by necessity and cost.

The current conditions section includes data showing that “level of service,” a measure of traffic flow for a given intersection or area, is rated as an E or F (near or over capacity, with reduced speeds or long delays respectively) at rush hour for many key intersections in the study area, which extends from the highway’s intersection with Interstate 90 at the north to Hatch Road to the south, along with proposed improvements along Cheney-Spokane Road and Hatch Road.

Those changes seek to reduce congestion and to smooth out travel through existing routes.

“The strategies that we came up with improve safety, improve local network connectivity,” said Stewart, “reducing the need for local trips to hop on the highway or the freeway. Instead, they could use local connections to travel to and from their origins and destinations.”

Some of these strategies address issues highlighted by the WSDOT letter in 2020, in which Gribner specifically cited “the City’s failure to follow through with commitments to create an appropriate local access network.”

The 26 investments and projects are divided into three categories. A series of seven “near-term investments” form the cheaper, quicker first steps of the study’s proposals. These include ramp metering at the U.S. 195 / I-90 intersection, travel time signs and certain smaller road improvements.

There are seven more “key investments,” which are “more expensive and more complex,” said Stewart. The key investments include an extension of Lindeke Street, connecting it to Thorpe Road, an extension of Qualchan Drive to Meadow Lane Road, and a series of J-turns. Even these more expensive projects are cheaper than the proposals suggested earlier.

The study’s final category is “supporting investments,” which enhance local connectivity, especially for bicycles and pedestrians. The category includes several multiuse paths, including proposals for one on Hatch Road, and another west of U.S. 195.

Part of the study’s research included projections for expected growth to emphasize where the current system would struggle or fail in coming years. It also considered the development forecast for land use within the study area for the next 20 years.

Stewart called these projections “market-based forecasts;” they may change with shifts in local markets. The study estimates nearly 4,000 new units and 2,000 new jobs within the study area, indicating an increasing need for travel improvement over time.

The city’s adoption of the study supports and corroborates its results.

“The region recognizes the importance of these projects,” said Stewart. “They’ve been included in our regional long-range transportation plan.”

To move forward, agencies in charge of these regions need to program and fund the projects, including them in their comprehensive plans.

“Nothing has been finalized,” Stewart added, “although several of the key investments are being very closely looked at right now and are close to getting funded.”

Work to watch for

Third Avenue has been reduced to one lane at the I-90 eastbound offramp at Altamont to Lee Street as part of the $8.9 million reconstruction of the Thor and Freya couplet.

One westbound curb lane of Spokane Falls Boulevard between Sherman and Pine streets will be closed for construction of the City Line rapid bus transit system.

Additional ramp meters will be installed on eastbound I-90 at the U.S. 2 interchange with shoulder closures expected.

Closures remain in place near Forker, Progress and Sullivan roads in Spokane Valley as crews complete Phase 6 of the Bigelow Gulch project.