It may have been appropriate to have some balloons or even the obligatory gold watch on hand earlier this month when Spokane Valley Public Works Director Neil Kersten announced the impending retirement of a full-width paving program on city streets.
Since 2004, the Septic Tank Elimination Program – or STEP – has brought curb-to-curb repaving to nearly 8,900 parcels across Spokane Valley, from neighborhoods in Veradale to Ponderosa and most points in between. The lots themselves fall into a variety of categories, including single-family, multi-family, industrial, commercial and even vacant lots.
According to Steve Worley, a senior engineer with Spokane Valley, the program has meant full-width paving on 105 centerline miles throughout the city since incorporation. Spokane Valley has roughly 450 miles of municipal roads.
“The paveback program has provided the city of Spokane Valley with good streets well into the future,” Worley said. “If we hadn’t done this, over time, we would be maintaining miles of roadways.”
The process involves replacing septic tank systems – deemed unhealthy for the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer – with modern sewer line. Roads need to be unearthed as part of the procedure, overseen by the Spokane County Public Works Department.
If a road is narrow, the whole street is typically replaced – at no charge to the city. Wider roads with more shallow sewer systems can either be patched up after the work – eventually resulting in gaps and fissures in the pavement – or repaved entirely from “curb-to-curb.”
After Spokane Valley incorporated in 2003, the city was left to pick up part of the bill for full-width paving. Initially, the topic found its way onto the ballot in the form of a property tax increase. In September 2004, residents voted down a proposal to raise the rate 21 cents per $1,000 by a 52-percent margin. The tax would have been in place for six years and raised approximately $6 million.
While the ballot measure had failed, more than a few citizens expressed hope that full-width paving would still by considered for their respective neighborhoods. After concern was voiced by residents in areas like Mica Park and Sherwood Forest that would be affected by STEP, the matter went back to the Spokane Valley City Council which put the issue to a vote in May 2005.
Margaret Herman, a 26-year resident of the Mica Park neighborhood, told council members before the vote that it was time to invest money in residential roads.
“The street is getting pretty crummy,” Herman said. “I would appreciate a new street with our new sewer.”
The vote narrowly passed, 3-2, paving the way for $500,000 to be set aside for work in three neighborhoods, including Mica Park. The funds have been part of the annual municipal budget ever since.
At the City Council meeting earlier this month, Kersten described how the city has spent between $1 million to $3 million each year on the program, providing what is essentially a one-third match to Spokane County’s portion.
The city has dedicated $800,000 in road improvement funds and another $100,000 in drainage improvements this year for work in the Green Haven and Micaview neighborhoods, comprising 527 parcels.
Kevin Cooke, sewer design manager with Spokane County, said around half of the Green Haven project is located outside the city as part of unincorporated Spokane County. Depending on the weather, Cooke said work could start in April and take around six months.
From a quality and safety standpoint, Cooke said full-width paving makes sense.
“It makes a big difference in the finished product,” he said. “It provides a quality road surface at a relatively low cost for the city.”
Following Kersten’s presentation, Council Member Bill Gothmann commended the previous governing board for committing funds to the program.
“This was a wise decision,” Gothmann said. “It’s been terrific for us. It’s meant clean streets, and it’s extended the life of these roads.”