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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

North Spokane Corridor funding appears safe in proposed transportation budgets

Columns rise from the Spokane Community College parking lot as construction continues on the North Spokane Corridor last month.  (Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

OLYMPIA – Completion of the North Spokane Corridor appears likely to stay on schedule after leaders in the House and Senate said they want the project funded in the next two-year budget.

Proposed transportation budgets released this week by House and Senate Democrats keep funding construction of the North Spokane Corridor without any significant pause.

The proposals are a relief to Spokane leaders who objected to Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed transportation budget, which called for a six-year delay in building the freeway.

Inslee’s budget proposal would pause funding for the North Spokane Corridor, as well as a number of other projects statewide, for the next four years, sparking criticism from local lawmakers and a commitment from the Spokane delegation to find funding for the decadeslong project.

House Democrats on Monday released a $13.6 billion budget proposal, and Senate Democrats on Wednesday released a $12.9 billion budget proposal.

The two proposals will have to be consolidated into one by the end of the legislative session April 23, but as of now, both include funding for the North Spokane Corridor.

“This is a project that started before I was born, and we’re committed to completing it,” Spokane Democrat Rep. Marcus Riccelli said.

“It’s about reducing travel time, emissions. It’s about economic development and good paying jobs.”

Inslee said his delay of the project was due to rising costs and a dwindling workforce.

Senate Transportation Chair Marko Liias, D-Everett, said the Senate proposal does pause some projects as requested by Inslee but they tried to focus on keeping projects that are under construction funded.

“We can’t build everything everywhere all at once,” Liias said.

Transportation Chair Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, said that by pausing large highway projects, such as the North Spokane Corridor, the state likely would have incurred more costs by having to rehire teams after the pause.

“It made a lot of sense to us that we not dismantle those project teams but keep them moving forward,” Fey said.

Liias said it didn’t make sense to pause the North Spokane Corridor and lose momentum on the progress that’s already been made.

The estimated completion date is between 2027 and 2029 with funding set aside in these budget proposals to do that. Lawmakers acknowledge that workforce shortages could still lead to delays in the final completion, but Riccelli said it won’t be from lack of state funds.

The goal is to have the Department of Transportation do as much work as possible with the funding it’s been allocated, he added.

The budget proposals also would keep funding the bus rapid transit line on Division Street to allow for a more public-transit-focused corridor once traffic and major freight have moved onto the new freeway.

Riccelli said the bus rapid transit line works with the North Spokane Corridor, and funding both is essential to keep the projects on track.

Planning for the bus line is underway as the city continues to try to leverage more federal funds for the project.

Spokane Republican Rep. Mike Volz, who sits on the House Transportation Committee, said in a statement lawmakers still don’t know what the final budget will look like, as both the House and Senate proposals must still be consolidated into one.

“But with both the House and Senate versions including more funding for the North Spokane Corridor, I think we’re in pretty good shape,” he said.

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.