Until Thursday, the completed portion of the North Spokane Corridor was entirely north of Spokane. Now, for the first time since the north-south freeway was first envisioned more than 70 years ago, there is a drivable portion open within city limits.
The Wellesley Avenue interchange was opened Thursday, connecting about 1.5 miles of freeway to the Freya Street interchange to the north, although southbound lanes in the newly opened section are not expected to open to the public until the weekend.
City, state and regional officials huddled in the cold Thursday afternoon under an overpass decorated with a stamped concrete steam engine in commemoration of the railways that once defined the Hillyard neighborhood . Hundreds of Washington State Department of Transportation employees and members of the public gathered to celebrate the milestone years in the making, and “Sir Plows-A-Lot,” one of WSDOT’s community-named tow plows, was on display to celebrate the handing off of the freeway from construction workers to maintenance workers.
Once the dignitaries delivered their remarks and after an obligatory ribbon cutting, barriers were removed to the northbound lanes leading from the Wellesley interchange and cars proceeded onto the first drivable section of the North Spokane Corridor completed in more than a decade.
For the better part of a century, the freeway has been envisioned as a superior north-south route through Spokane, relieving nearby Division Street of major freight traffic and creating a better opportunity for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation on that city street.
The North Spokane Corridor first broke ground in 2001, and by 2012 about 5.5 miles of the corridor north of the Freya interchange was completed and drivable. Further construction stalled until the remainder of the corridor was funded under the 2015 Connecting Washington transportation package, and work to complete the corridor south all the way to Interstate 90 got underway in 2018.
The first major section of the freeway’s southern half was completed by 2019, stretching from the Freya interchange south to Columbia Avenue. Drivers weren’t able to access that section, however, until it was connected to the Wellesley Avenue interchange on Thursday.
The phase’s completion is seen by some in the Hillyard neighborhood as an opportunity to continue reimagining the area, including improvements in the area east of Market Street known to longtime residents as “Dogtown.”
Crews continue to work to finish a section of the freeway south of Wellesley to the Spokane River that, although originally scheduled for completion this year, has been delayed in part due to supply chain issues, according to WSDOT Eastern Region spokesman Ryan Overton. Regardless, the next new drivable portion of the freeway will not open until the completed portions reach all the way south to a partial interchange planned on Trent Avenue, which is not projected to happen until 2028.
Work is underway on the river crossing next to Spokane Community College, with the bridge scheduled to be finished by the end of 2025.
The home stretch for the North Spokane Corridor will be a long one. While the last phase does little to further the north-south freeway’s goal to go either north or south, the work to build extensive tie-ins to a nearly 3-mile stretch of I-90 won’t be finished until at least 2030.
When all is said and done, the North Spokane Corridor is estimated to cost $1.66 billion, the vast majority of which – $1.05 billion – was allocated in 2015 through the Connecting Washington funding package.