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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Washington program to reconnect communities damaged by transportation projects renamed in honor of Sandy Williams

March 1, 2023 Updated Wed., March 1, 2023 at 10:12 p.m.

Sandy Williams, photographed in front of the Carl Maxey Center.  (COLIN MULVANY/The Spokesman-Review)
Sandy Williams, photographed in front of the Carl Maxey Center. (COLIN MULVANY/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

OLYMPIA – Sandy Williams is being honored with the renaming of a statewide grant program that funds bicycle and pedestrian links near current and former state highways, an acknowledgment of the late Spokane activist’s work to reconnect the East Central neighborhood after the construction of Interstate 90.

Williams advocated for revitalizing East Central, which was split in half by the freeway in the late 1950s, and for helping communities recover from damages done by transportation projects.

Williams died last September in a float plane crash near Whidbey Island that killed nine other people, including her partner, Patricia Hicks.

“Sandy’s death was a loss for Spokane, a loss for our state and for the larger community,” Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said on the floor Wednesday.

The bill that passed unanimously out of the Senate makes mostly technical changes to the 16-year transportation package that passed the Legislature last year, with investments into roads, highways, transit, and pedestrian and bicycle pathways across the state.

One change was renaming the Connecting Communities Pilot Program to the Sandy Williams Connecting Communities Program. The five-year, $50 million program makes investments across the state in pedestrian and bicycle pathways across current and former state highways.

In the first year of the program, the Department of Transportation is requesting $12 million in funding for 12 projects across the state, including $2 million for transportation improvements along U.S. 2 in Airway Heights.

The projects must be done in places with communities that face multiple environmental harms and impacts or have populations that are at a higher risk for poor health.

The grant program was modeled on work done by Williams and other community leaders in Spokane to address the historic injustices that happened from the construction of I-90 in Spokane, Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, said on the floor.

Williams poured her passion and energy into healing the Black community from the division it faced from the construction of I-90, he added.

“This bill names that program in Sandy’s honor so that her legacy and the memory of her incredible service, not just to Spokane, but to the statewide conversation of equity, will be remembered long after we are here,” Liias said.

Williams also advocated for a proposal that passed the Legislature last year allowing the Department of Transportation to lease unused land surrounding I-90 and the North Spokane Corridor – which will cut the East Central neighborhood in half – back to the community, which could use it for affordable housing, new businesses or parks.

At the time, she said the bill would help provide pathways to home ownership, help the community build a thriving business ecosystem, create new green space and help undo the historical damage that was done to the neighborhood.

Both the Connecting Communities grant program and the leasing of Department of Transportation land work toward Williams’ goal of helping communities recover from these projects, Billig wrote in a text.

“Sandy was not only the inspiration for the Connecting Communities work but an inspiration to me and to so many in Spokane on issues related to equity in transportation and equity in so many other ways,” Billig said on the floor Wednesday.

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.

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