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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: County set to break ground on roundabout in Moran Prairie as urban sprawl continues to creep up South Hill

The intersection of 57th Avenue and Freya Street doesn’t seem like much of a problem area on any given weekday afternoon.

But when school lets out at Moran Prairie Elementary down the street, and South Hill residents head home from work, traffic starts to pick up. Cars back up at the two stop signs on Freya as a steady line of vehicles on 57th zips through the intersection.

Matt King, lead pastor at nearby Followers Church, said the intersection gets congested quicker than you’d expect.

“If you stand here for about five minutes, you’ll hear a couple honks,” King said. “Or someone giving somebody an opinion.”

Spokane County Public Works will break ground this year on a roundabout at 57th and Freya that is intended to make the intersection safer and more efficient for travelers. The contract for the project was awarded to Spokane Valley-based Cameron-Reilly LLC earlier this month, with their nearly $832,000 bid being the lowest the county received.

The roundabout will be funded almost entirely by a $728,000 federal Congestion Management Air Quality grant awarded to the county by the Spokane Regional Transportation Council in 2018. The grant is intended for capital improvement projects that reduce congestion and improve air quality.

The roundabout will use sections of the southeast corners of the intersection, where an empty county-owned plot used for stormwater management now sits, and a section of land owned by the Spokane South Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church at the northeast corner.

Public Works spokesperson Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter said travelers at the intersection could see daily delays reduced by an estimated 500 minutes, according to the county’s grant application in 2018.

Traffic in the area is expected to increase in the coming years, as urban sprawl continues to encroach upon the former agricultural community of Moran Prairie.

The YMCA of The Inland Northwest purchased 15 acres off nearby South Glenrose Road in 2022 and plans to turn the $3.4 million former Bauer family farm into their new South Hill location. The facility will include community gathering areas, walking trails, youth and teen programming space, early learning child care, pools and water features, and health and wellness center, said Alan Lesher, president and chief executive officer of YMCA of the Inland Northwest, in a 2022 news release.

Next to the building site is another 14-acre parcel the Bauer family and the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy have agreed to preserve as a recreation area, with plans to restore a former wetland and establish walking trails that will be open to the public and accessible via the nearby Ben Burr Trail.

“This’ll be kind of a little oasis,” Carol Corbin, the conservancy’s director of philanthropy and communications, told The Spokesman-Review last year. “It’s a little island of land in the midst of a whole bunch of housing and urban development.”

What remains of the 60-acre historic Drewes farm property will also be developed. An application has been filed to develop the 30 acres next to the YMCA property on Glenrose Road into a proposed 121-unit single-family home subdivision.

In addition to reducing delays at the crossroads, the roundabout is also intended to help reduce collisions and their severity. Wheatley-Billeter said there is a history of collisions at 57th and Freya typical for a two-way stop intersection.

“I know roundabouts may not be everyone’s favorite,” Wheatley-Billeter said last week. “But they reduce the amount of time cars are idling, and there’s a reduction of accidents. They’re safer.”

Nearby resident Cliff Barrows said he usually is not a fan of roundabouts, but the apparent success of others, like those in Airway Heights, has given him a change of heart.

“There’s been several crashes out there, so it couldn’t hurt to do something different,” Barrows said.