Temperatures may have been moderate outside this week, but the heat was definitely rising inside the Spokane Valley City Council chambers on Tuesday night.
Over a dozen signed up to voice their ire over plans this summer to restripe Broadway from four lanes to three between Pines and Park roads and for a planned three-week shutdown of the busy Sprague/Sullivan intersection for three weeks.
The safety improvements to Broadway – which have been planned in one form or another since before the city incorporated in 2003 – are set to get underway this summer, with 80 percent of the $933,000 project to be paid for by state grants. The four existing lanes will be reduced to two with a center turn lane. Bicycle lanes will be added as a buffer between the street and sidewalks, and the end result will be similar to what already exists between Pines and Sullivan roads.
While most who spoke don’t have any problem with the portion of the project that will improve sidewalks to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, they hoped the lanes would be left alone.
“I think some city staff are just so enamored with grant money that they will spend it whether they need to or not,” said Charles Rhodes.
City public works officials have said, however, that the city won’t be able to do just the ADA work with the grant funds. Changing the scope of the project to that extent means that all the money would have to be returned.
Marc Mims, who said he is an avid bicyclist, defended the project by saying that traffic actually flows better where the bike lanes currently exist on Broadway.
“Cyclists have a right to the road,” he said. “Driving is a privilege…bicycling is a valid form of transportation.”
But Gene Hinkle said all the talk about “safety” was simply a “fad” for road engineers to fund an unneeded project.
“The City Council and citizens must lead the street planning process,” he said. “The planners aren’t all-knowing.”
A motion to cancel the project could still come before the council at a future meeting.
Also, plans to shut down Sprague and Sullivan between June 21 and mid-July were also criticized, largely by business owners who will be most affected. The scope of the work includes replacing rutted asphalt with concrete, upgrading sidewalks to meet ADA requirements and improving storm drains. Cost of the work is $1.2 million, with 60.5 percent funded by federal grant dollars.
While the council will receive a full report on the project next week, city engineers made the choice to shorten the construction period from five to three weeks by allowing all the lanes to be closed rather than partially open. The move will also save $100,000.
However, those who spoke said completely closing the intersection would be a devastating blow financially.
“I propose to do something at night,” Chris Clark, who works in the area, said. “Do something to keep traffic moving through there.”
Scott Burgess agreed, saying “three weeks of downtime is a long time.”
Glenn Burdick of Savemore Valley Building Supply said he is “flabbergasted” at the plans.
“I don’t know who would benefit from shutting it down,” he said. “I’m pleading with you to keep the arterial open.”
Council Member Gary Schimmels reminded those in attendance that “these projects do not come up in a vacuum” and that they had been on the city’s six-year Transportation Improvement Program for years.
Council Member Dean Grafos, who read a letter from management at Fred Meyer who is also against closing the intersection, said something needs to be done to work with the business owners.
“It’s not the right message to send to property owners and to businesses,” he said.
Acting City Manager Mike Jackson said staff members would consider the public comments and report back to council.