The long journey of improving a major Spokane Valley intersection has stretched back before the city incorporated in 2003, but it looks like the final stop is in sight.
With only a bit of formality to be worked through, the Spokane Valley City Council could be poised next Tuesday to reach an agreement with the Union Pacific Railroad for the remaining improvements at the Pines Road railroad crossing just north of Interstate 90.
The work – which has taken years to negotiate – will improve pedestrian and traffic safety in the area that benefitted from a major overhaul three to four years ago as part of the Pines/Mansfield project.
Deemed one of the major road-improvement coups by the city, the project initially was initially started between the Washington State Department of Transportation (Pines Road is also Highway 27) and Spokane County. The city of Spokane Valley inherited the work after incorporation in 2003.
Most of the $6.1 million project – which involved the removal of a traffic light at Montgomery Road, the construction of a roundabout at Wilbur Road and realigning access to the freeway – was paid for by the state. However, there was also federal support as well as funding from the city, Spokane Transit Authority and, most significantly, private developers who needed congestion relief on Pines before they would be allowed to build new multifamily housing units north of the intersection.
A final partner, Union Pacific, has been slightly more daunting to work with in order to finish improvements to the crossing-arm mechanism and lights in the area, resulting in the cumbersome and unsightly concrete medians placed between the roadway and sidewalk area.
“This is an agreement that’s been a long time coming,” said Steve Worley, senior project engineer.
Worley explained that the city inherited the particulars of an agreement that had been worked out between the county and a previous railroad company whereby Union Pacific is responsible to operate and maintain the warning devices at the Pines Road crossing, but the city is responsible to pay for alterations to the existing devices necessitated by any road improvements. Hang-ups have included exactly what work needs to be done, how much it costs and the generally slow nature of working through relationships between a large rail transportation company, a municipality and their corresponding legal teams.
The city is seeking to extend the sidewalk through the area, but in order to do that the existing cantilever – the structure with the overhead flashing red lights – and the west side crossing arm must be relocated. A new crossing arm would also be constructed at the center median for southbound traffic due to the road widening.
Worley said that the city and UPRR have reached a tentative agreement, with the final details hopefully reached by the end of this week. The city is anxious to include the work, which is budgeted, done in the upcoming construction season. While the railroad company will oversee the project, the actual cost – estimated at $236,542 – will be billed to the city.
Worley added that while the city will have limited ability to dispute work costing more than the estimate, the city’s obligation to pay will depend on the reasons for the overrun.
Spokane Valley staffers will also have the right to monitor the work being done.
Also at the March 27 council meeting, there will be a public hearing on the amended 2012 transportation improvement plan.