Maybe the third time will be the charm.
Two busy Spokane Valley railroad crossings have long plagued both motorists and nearby residents who tire of the noisy train whistles.
Improving them, however, costs a lot of money – and two previous attempts by the city to secure federal grants have failed.
However, increased rail traffic and the headaches that comes with it spurred the City Council on Tuesday to give the go-ahead on seeking federal grants that would fund a portion of the grade-separation projects at Barker and Pines roads.
“We’ve been told to try again,” said Eric Guth, city public works director. “So here we are again.”
The estimated cost to build an overpass at Barker Road just south of Trent Avenue is $29.2 million. The city already has received some funding, and federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) funds would cover up to 80 percent of the total cost, which could leave a minimal amount of the remainder for the city to pay.
Another grant source – Fastlane, provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation – targets high-freight areas, which the crossings at Barker and Pines roads are potentially eligible. The amount funded is smaller at 60 percent, which would leave shortfalls of $2.22 million for Barker and $6.38 million for the Pines underpass, if approved.
While the amounts are not insignificant to the city, Deputy City Manager Mark Calhoun said the city would be able to work out a way to pay its share of the projects by 2019, when work would need to begin.
“What a wonderful problem to have,” Calhoun said. “We could put on our thinking caps to do that.”
The aim of the grants is to reduce congestion and improve areas of expansion on the nation’s highways. A welcome side-effect of the projects, however, is that engineers would no longer need to blow train horns in those areas – an issue that is frequently brought before the council by Valley citizens.
“These are too important (not to seek the grants),” said Council Member Dean Grafos.
In other news, the council unanimously and without discussion agreed to extend full pay and benefits to former City Manager Mike Jackson until the end of April. The city continues to negotiate the terms of a termination agreement with Jackson, who was asked to resign by the majority of the council in February.