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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bill to allow state to lease land along I-90 to Spokane passes Legislature

Empty lots flanking Interstate 90 are photographed as traffic passes through the East Central neighborhood on Friday in Spokane.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – A proposal allowing the Department of Transportation to lease state property near Interstate 90 and the North Spokane Corridor back to the community won final approval from the Legislature Wednesday.

The proposal, sponsored by Spokane Democrat Sen. Andy Billig, would allow the Department of Transportation to lease surplus land to the Department of Commerce or a community-based nonprofit organization, which can use it for affordable housing, new businesses or parks. The bill will need Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature to become law.

“This bill really is a unique opportunity to work with the community to provide some options for affordable housing and help basically undo some of the historical injustices that have occurred,” Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, said on the House floor Wednesday.

When construction began on Interstate 90 in the late 1950s, hundreds of homes, mostly in the East Central neighborhood, were demolished to make way for the highway. When planning for the North Spokane Corridor began, hundreds more were demolished. Now, much of the land, still owned by the Department of Transportation, sits unoccupied.

Community members will have the final say about what to do with the land, Billig said. The bill just provides a mechanism to make it easier and less expensive for the land to be repurposed.

The details of the lease of the land, including the price will be worked out by the Department of Transportation as this bill becomes law.

Community leaders already have indicated they want to use it to address the need for affordable housing, create a pathway to home ownership, open new businesses and create parks and green spaces.

“This will be transformative and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Spokane City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson said at a Senate transportation committee hearing last month.

Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, said there would be some mixed reaction from Republicans on the bill over concerns about the process laid out in the bill and the precedent that it could set for using future DOT lands this way.

Barkis, who voted in favor of the bill, said when there are opportunities to use surplus land from transportation projects for community purposes, it is a good idea to do so.

The bill passed 70-26 in the House after passing unanimously in the Senate last month. It will now head to the governor’s desk.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.