No mistake about it: Sprague and Sullivan will be closed for three weeks in July and August for reconstruction.
On Tuesday, the Spokane Valley City Council, by consensus, supported that decision – although, by the members’ own admission, they have no say one way or the other.
“I’d like to restate that it’s a staff decision,” Mayor Tom Towey told the council.
City staff members, meanwhile, convinced the majority of the council that closing the intersection entirely – but providing detours and access to all businesses at all times – will make more sense than a partial closure that will take up to eight weeks, restrict turns and cause long lines of traffic.
That’s information those critical of the full-closure option need to know, said Steve Worley, senior engineer.
“I wish some of the people who testified last week had showed up at the open house (held Jan. 21),” Worley said. “That would have been great.”
Worley said that his staff had contacted 20 of the most affected businesses and that representatives from each property – after learning that the construction work, originally slated for next month, could be done more quickly and cheaply by closing the intersection – were in favor of the city’s plans. Those include Ace Hardware, U.S. Bank and Petco, he added.
“We knew that this would impact the driving public,” Worley said. “We’re trying to minimize that as much as possible.”
But on May 11, council members listened for over an hour as several area property owners railed against the project. Glenn Burdick of Savemore Valley Building Supply told the council he is “flabbergasted” that the city would consider closing the intersection while businesses struggle in a sagging economy.
Over 40 property owners near the intersection had been contacted in recent weeks by Council Member Dean Grafos to sign a petition he drafted that states the roadwork would be “very detrimental to our employees and our business.”
Some council members were not convinced those who signed Grafos’ letter had all the facts.
“Did you provide any alternatives?” Council Member Bill Gothmann asked Grafos. “I suspect there is an assumption that a partial shutdown won’t affect them.”
Worley said that a partial closure would ultimately be more frustrating to drivers because traffic controls would change frequently as workers dig out what used to be the main thoroughfare to Coeur d’Alene. Also, the traffic signal system installed at the intersection is “over 25 years old” and the drywells “aren’t doing what they’re supposed to.”
In other words, Worley said, the work is much more involved than what recently occurred at Broadway and Sullivan. Also, access to the southern portion of Sullivan would be cut off for three weeks even under a partial-closure plan.
Neil Kersten, public works director, also said the project is “99 percent” ready to go and that any changes now would delay the roadwork until 2011 – and there are no guarantees it would come in for the same price. The city is paying 39.5 percent of the $1.2 million job, but would have to come up with a minimum of $120,000 more if it were to be constructed in phases.
Council Member Rose Dempsey -- who asked for Grafos to read his letter and for confirmation he was the one who sought the signatures – said, “It’s obvious we have to do this (project) in the lesser amount of time.”
Council Member Gary Schimmels also advocated for the three-week “get in and get out” approach to Sprague and Sullivan and wondered if property owners now understand the city engineers’ logic.
“Are (business owners) really aware of what they think they’re agreeing to (by signing Grafos’ letter)?” Schimmels asked.
After Gothmann noted “this whole decision is a staff decision, not a policy decision (by council),” the matter was dropped.
“It looks like were in favor of continuing as we are,” Towey concluded.