It was a footnote in a City Council discussion in October 2008 when Spokane Valley’s governing board gave its stamp of approval to restore two-way traffic along the Sprague/Appleway couplet between University and Argonne roads.
While all agreed that the logistics of the change – and how to pay for it – would still need to be worked out, there was also a general consensus among council members that any alterations to the couplet east of University should be left for a future agenda.
“That’s an issue for another council,” said Council Member Dick Denneny.
Not quite two years later, the debate over Appleway to the east remains in murky territory due to unresolved discussions with Spokane County.
Meanwhile, the matter of reconfiguring the much-discussed portion of Sprague between University and Argonne is a very relevant topic for the current council – although a public vote regarding the future of the street now seems unlikely for the November general election.
At the June 29 council meeting, interim City Manager Mike Jackson provided an overview of the steps that would need to be taken in order for the issue to be placed on the ballot this fall, an idea supported by Council Member Dean Grafos at the June 8 council meeting.
The city has until Aug. 10 to file with the Spokane County Elections Office if it intends to qualify for the Nov. 2 election. Based on the number of issues on the ballot, placement of the initiative would cost the city between $10,000 and $15,000. Waiting to include the topic as part of a special election could run upwards of $100,000, Jackson said.
There is still some uncertainty about whether the ballot measure would simply serve as an advisory vote – a simple yes or no inquiry to keep the couplet as a one-way route or bring back two-way traffic between University and Argonne – or contain a financial element in the form of a capital facilities bond to pay for the changes.
In light of that question and others, Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels was among those who supported the idea of tabling the idea until next spring.
“I’d like to see the language (on the ballot),” Schimmels said.
Council Member Rose Dempsey, meanwhile, said any delay in returning the couplet to a two-way thoroughfare would have a detrimental impact on retailers along the corridor.
“The prior council spent a lot of time and effort on this,” Dempsey said. “Why can’t we just let it go forward? If we don’t, we’re just putting the business community back on the fence – they don’t know what’s going to happen.”
That viewpoint was shared by property owners like Carlos Landa, who spoke twice during the public comments portion of last week’s meeting, expressing frustration with the lack of progress on Sprague.
“Putting it off on some foregone election isn’t going to bring retailers to Sprague Avenue,” Landa said.
Landa added that any extension of the one-way traffic would simply exacerbate the problem of the couplet as a “commuter corridor.”
Mike King of Stonemark Real Estate presented council with a detailed list of retail vacancies along Sprague/Appleway since the couplet went into effect in 2000. He said the one-way route continues to be “devastating to local business.”
“All you have to do is look at the vacant signs,” King said.
Grafos maintained that including the couplet in the election process would “solve the issue once and for all.”
Steve Worley, senior engineer with Spokane Valley, has noted that the city could tap into a grant of $4.2 million for changes to Sprague, money initially awarded by the state Transportation Improvement Board after incorporation in 2003. Worley said the funds, which would now be administered by the Spokane Regional Transportation Council, could be used along the Sprague/Appleway corridor as long as a development strategy is in place.
Spokane Valley Mayor Tom Towey joined Schimmels and Council Member Bill Gothmann by recommending the city collect more data before moving forward with a ballot initiative or any other decision on the couplet.
“I’d like to get more information on the minutes of the previous council,” Towey said. “I think we need to step back and take a good look at this.”