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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Getting There: Weather, shortages blamed for delays to Spokane roadwork

Temporary lights help guide two-way traffic on the normally one-way South Thor Street on Friday.  (Emry Dinman/The Spokesman-Review)
Temporary lights help guide two-way traffic on the normally one-way South Thor Street on Friday. (Emry Dinman/The Spokesman-Review)

Serious delays have plagued a few of Spokane’s road projects, including the Thor-Freya reconstruction project, the largest and most complex of the year, frustrating commuters, business owners and officials.

Supply chain disruptions, an insufficient labor pool, late spring rains and an early winter freeze: The things that could go wrong, did, said Spokane Public Works Communications Manager Kirstin Davis.

“We know this has been a challenging construction year, because significant traffic impacts have happened, and we really appreciate everybody’s patience,” Davis said. “The payoff will be there – although there will be more coming next year, as usual.”

Thor-Freya reconstruction

The one-way roads that wrap north and south around a handful of businesses in East Central Spokane may be named after Norse deities, but their reconstruction has been held up by rather earthly problems.

“But we may be dealing with this not being done for 30 days or longer,” Davis said. “We’re just not in a place where we can estimate that.”

During a recent cold afternoon on the west side of South Thor Street, Scott Kates mans both of his two adjacent businesses, pet supply shop Dogtown Co. and head shop Wicked Glass.

He walks back and forth between the two shops, followed lazily by his cat, Harley Quinn. Signs on both doors state that if either is locked, Kates can be found through the other one.

For Kates, the year has been long and frustrating. Work began on Thor Street in the spring, with Freya Street being turned temporarily into a two-way road as traffic was rerouted there.

Scott Kates, owner of adjacent businesses Dogtown Co. and Wicked Glass, expresses frustration Friday with prolonged construction on Thor and Freya streets, including what he believes has been insufficient alternative access to his businesses.  (Emry Dinman/The Spokesman-Review)
Scott Kates, owner of adjacent businesses Dogtown Co. and Wicked Glass, expresses frustration Friday with prolonged construction on Thor and Freya streets, including what he believes has been insufficient alternative access to his businesses. (Emry Dinman/The Spokesman-Review)

That phase of construction in front of Kates’ businesses was prolonged, originally projected to be completed in July but not wrapping up until August, he said.

“It was a very rough summer,” he said. “And we still haven’t fully recovered yet – we’re 50% of where we were before they started construction.”

While the city created access to businesses throughout construction, most commuters and shoppers avoided the area entirely, hoping to not get snarled in traffic and detours, he said. He also questions how adequate the access to his business has been.

Dogtown ended its grooming services two years ago as a result of the pandemic. Kates said that portion of his businesses may have better been able to withstand the protracted construction because it was a destination for customers coming to their preferred groomer.

The retail side was heavily affected, and Kates expects it will be a long recovery.

The approximately $9 million project to fully reconstruct the roadway, replace utilities and upgrade pedestrian ramps between Hartson and Sprague avenues was supposed to wrap up by mid-October.

Because the roads see significant traffic, including heavy freight, city officials had opted to replace the asphalt with concrete. Concrete is more durable over time, especially with heavy cargo loads and overall traffic, Davis said.

Things had been proceeding relatively smoothly after construction began in March, except for the unusually wet spring that lasted through much of June.

“Concrete and rain are not friends,” Davis said. “That set things back.”

But crews were able to use specialty equipment to try to make up time where they could, she added. Their ability to flex up productivity to catch up was limited, however, by the same challenges finding sufficient labor and materials that most other industries are facing.

“There’s been some things that haven’t slowed things down a huge amount, but cumulatively it put us behind,” Davis said.

After a challenging spring, weather conditions had been better for construction through early November. If those conditions had lasted, concrete work may be completed by now.

But the weather turned quickly earlier this month. Like the rain this spring, the freezing weather makes pouring concrete significantly more difficult. Crews are adjusting, doing smaller pours and using heating machines in an attempt to wrap up the last road work.

“We’re three (concrete) pours away from being done, but the challenge is going to be the weather,” Davis said.

There will still be some striping work to be done, which also is adversely affected by freezing weather. All in all, there are no guarantees work will be done before the end of the year.

Even after construction is over, Kates wonders how long it will take customers to come back. Customers are creatures of habit, he said, and while they might have once gone to him for pet supplies and glass pipes, those products are available elsewhere, and new habits may have formed.

Across the street, regulars at Red Wheel Bar & Grill have helped keep that business afloat during the construction season, said General Manager Shelby Gransbery.

But while regulars make up over half of the clientele, traffic to Red Wheel still hasn’t bounced back, Gransbery added.

Riverside Avenue

The rebuild of Riverside Avenue downtown has also faced delays, though the third and final phase of the project has been buttoned up and left for completion in the spring.

The project, estimated to cost $4 million, was originally projected to finish by the end of November. Split into three, two-block phases to minimize the impacts on traffic at any given time, crews are creating a new bike lane and performing a grind and overlay from Division to Wall, among other work.

Crews had made it to the final phase between Stevens and Wall streets when winter weather arrived earlier this month. Underground utility work had already been completed, and unlike the Thor-Freya reconstruction project, crews were able to opt for simply buttoning up the road and leaving remaining work for spring.

Next year, all that remains for the project is performing the grind and overlay and placing permanent striping on the street. At that time, Riverside Avenue will close again between Stevens and Wall until work is completed.

Monroe Street Bridge

The Monroe Street pavement replacement project between the Monroe Street Bridge and Boone Avenue is behind schedule but largely finished.

Costing an estimated $700,000, the project included performing a grind and overlay of the pavement, completing deeper pavement repair in some areas and upgrading pedestrian ramps. It had originally been projected to finish by Nov. 11.

Both southbound lanes are now open, but there will be some intermittent closing of the northbound lanes in the coming weeks for some final finishing work, Davis said.

Like Riverside Avenue, crews will have to return in the spring to place permanent striping, which may cause some short-lived delays next year.

Work to watch for

There will be lane closures on 14th Avenue between Wall and Monroe streets on the South Hill beginning Monday through Dec. 9.

Pole work will close East Newman Lake Drive between March Horse Lane and South Park Street on Wednesday.

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