OLYMPIA – Funding for on-time completion of the North Spokane Corridor is still up in the air, but legislators and Gov. Jay Inslee have said they are looking at alternate means to keep the project on track.
In a news conference on Thursday, Inslee said he’s hopeful he and legislators can find a creative way to avoid the six-year delay he initially proposed in his transportation budget. Inslee’s proposal would pause funding for the next four years, pushing completion back to 2035.
Each year, Inslee submits budget proposals to the Legislature, which uses them as a recommendation for crafting its own budget. It’s unlikely Inslee’s budget will be adopted in full.
“I’m a supporter of this project,” Inslee told reporters Thursday. “I hope to move that forward, and yes, we’re looking at alternate means to accelerate that project.”
The North Spokane Corridor is not the only project that may be delayed in Inslee’s proposed budget. The state Route 18 highway-widening project along Tiger Mountain in the Snoqualmie Valley, for example, could also be pushed back six years. The Puget Sound Gateway Program, which combines completion of the state Route 509 and state Route 167 highway projects in King and Pierce counties, could also see delays.
A statement from the Department of Transportation last week said it’s common that conditions change for projects, like the North Spokane Corridor, that are funded 16 years out.
“As a state there’s a number of factors affecting the ability to deliver projects, including increased construction and materials costs, project fund sources and high statewide competition for contractors,” the statement read.
Given those changes, the department gave updated proposals for projects included in the most recent transportation funding packages. When determining which projects would be prioritized, the department looked at their legal obligations, including fish passages, safety investments and existing contracts, according to the statement.
Many projects around the state, including the North Spokane Corridor, have faced several new conditions, Inslee said.
Costs have gone dramatically up while revenues have gone down, Inslee said. As a result, projects in both Eastern and Western Washington may have to be delayed.
“I know how important this is to the community,” Inslee said. “I know sometimes people think, ‘Why Spokane?’ Well, it’s all across the state of Washington.”
At a House Transportation committee hearing on Thursday, Department of Transportation Assistant Secretary Julie Meredith again emphasized the governor’s budget is a proposal.
“We have a lot of legislative session left to go,” she said.
Significant delays in projects could lead to paused contracts for consultants, changes in WSDOT staff and a loss of continuity and knowledge of the project, Meredith said. It could take a lot of relearning for staff when the project starts up again.
The project has been discussed for decades, but only broke ground in 2001. Since then, it’s been slow to finish, despite efforts from lawmakers to accelerate the project.
Inslee’s proposed budget drew criticism from Spokane lawmakers in both parties.
Spokane Democrats Sen. Andy Billig and Reps. Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli said in a statement that they do not support the decision to delay completion of “this vital project.”
Billig told The Spokesman-Review that there is a shortfall in funding for the project, but that he was going to be vigilant in ensuring the project is completed on its current timeline.
“I have a high level of confidence we’ll find a solution,” he said.
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, called the decision “unconscionable” after everything the region has experienced with this project.
Spokane Republican lawmakers, including newly elected Valley Reps. Suzanne Schmidt and Leonard Christian and 6th District Sen. Jeff Holy and Rep. Mike Volz, have also all committed to working with lawmakers to ensure the project is funded.
A number of Spokane residents and local lawmakers testified against Inslee’s proposed budget at the House Transportation committee hearing on Thursday.
When finished, the project will give travelers another north-south route through the city, remove major freight off Division Street and create a much more efficient way to travel through the area.
Once the corridor is finished, the city also plans to install a rapid bus transit line along Division Street to allow for a more public-transit-focused corridor. The Legislature funded the line in its last transportation package.
“It doesn’t make sense to delay this project,” Spokane County Commissioner Amber Waldref testified in the House Housing committee. “It will end up costing our state more, and it will put other state projects at risk.”
When completed, Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said the project will increase safety, reduce emissions through marginalized neighborhoods and increase affordable housing in the region. The city is expecting to build a number of new housing units along Division Street once the project is completed, as city officials have updated zoning laws in anticipation of the project completion, Beggs said.
“We are just a few years away from completing this amazing project that’s going to revitalize the entire region,” he said.
Work to watch for
The eastbound and westbound off-ramp of Interstate 90 at the Geiger/Grover Road interchange will close Monday at 7 p.m. and reopen Tuesday at 6 a.m. Washington Department of Transportation crews will be installing a sign.
Drivers can use exits 272 or 277A as detours during the work.
Jay Avenue between Nevada and Dakota streets in northeast Spokane near the Division Y will be closed through Feb. 10 for construction of the Magnesium Village apartments.