Within the next few years, Spokane Valley will build an underpass where the Burlington Northern Santa Fe train tracks cross Pines Road, eliminating the infuriating delays that cost drivers a cumulative four hours every day.
But before construction can happen, the city needs to acquire land. And if landowners won’t sell willingly, Spokane Valley will condemn their properties and use its eminent domain rights.
The Spokane Valley City Council last week unanimously approved an ordinance that paves the way for the city to take right-of-way by eminent domain if sales negotiations with property owners fail.
Spokane Valley politicians and staff stressed that they’ll only condemn the properties as a last resort.
But they also made clear that the project is critically important for the city and shouldn’t be held off any longer than necessary if property owners aren’t willing to sell at a reasonable price.
Spokane Valley has secured $40 million for the project, mostly from the federal and state governments, and could begin construction as soon as next year. In addition to building an underpass at the BNSF railroad crossing, the city will create a trailhead by the Spokane River and install a roundabout at the intersection of Pines Road and Trent Avenue.
Land acquisition for the project has begun. Spokane Valley has reached agreements with six property owners, and is confident it can reach agreements with two others – Avista and BNSF.
The city is focused on four holdouts.
Misty Staker, one of the four property owners who hasn’t yet sold to the city, spoke against the eminent domain ordinance during the City Council’s Aug. 22 meeting.
Staker, who owns land between Empire Way and Portland Avenue near the Spokane River, criticized the city’s offers for her property.
City Council members said they’d rather negotiate fair sales with private property owners if at all possible, rather than taking the issue to court.
“To keep projects on schedule, we do have to sometimes do this,” City Councilman Arne Woodard said during the Aug. 22 meeting.
“We do not like – I do not like – condemnation and eminent domain laws, but at times you have to do it to get everybody to a table or to proceed with a public project that is of the utmost importance to the community.”