Like the mandatory delays that accompany road construction, motorists and business owners will have to deal with a temporary snag in the latest debate over turning Sprague Avenue back to a two-way street between University and Argonne.
City Manager Mike Jackson provided an update on the topic at the Spokane Valley City Council meeting on Tuesday night, emphasizing that a traffic study should be the first step in a process that could eventually put the issue on the November ballot. City officials have estimated that such a report – examining the potential impacts on intersections and traffic flow – would cost $75,000 and take approximately 90 days to complete.
Meanwhile, the city is facing a deadline of Aug. 16 to include the potential road revision as part of this fall’s general election.
City Attorney Cary Driskell estimated that putting the question on the ballot would cost the city between $10,000 and $15,000.
“We need more information,” said Spokane Valley Mayor Tom Towey. “But even when we get that information, it’s not a done deal that we’ll include in on the ballot.”
Council members ultimately agreed to table the discussion until Jackson could gather more data on the feasibility study. With next week’s council meeting cancelled due to an Association of Washington Cities conference, the issue won’t re-emerge until June 28.
Karla Kaley, a board member with the Spokane Valley Business Association, was one attendee on Tuesday who recommended that the city’s governing board support a change back to two-way traffic as a way to revitalize Sprague’s struggling retail landscape.
“Everyone is in agreement that something needs to be done, there’s just disagreement as to how to go about it,” Kaley said.
The transition to one-way traffic became official in November 2000 after Spokane County completed an $18.9 million project to improve the increasing procession of motorists along Spokane Valley’s main thoroughfare.
A pair of studies – one in 2006 by the Portland-based consulting firm ECONorthwest and another two years earlier by Gonzaga University – showed plummeting property values on Sprague. The Gonzaga research pointed to a 30-percent drop in property value in the area where traffic had been changed to one-way. Last May, the City Council heard an update on the ECONorthwest report, indicating that there was little change to forecasts that predicted Spokane Valley would only see a request of 40,000 square feet per year of commercial space for the next 20 years.
Cost estimates for the conversion back to east/west traffic in the now-defunct Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan ranged from a spartan version of $1.2 million to a $5.31 plan with landscaping features and other amenities.
Council Member Bill Gothmann, who voiced support of the SARP as it was being dismantled earlier this year and has campaigned for the return of two-way lanes between University and Sprague, pointed out the City Council has moved ahead with other traffic projects without a public vote. Gothmann read excerpts from a letter written by a property owner who has taken a significant financial hit in the affected area before leasing the space recently to a branch of NAPA Auto Parts for half the price of the previous tenant.
“He describes how two-way traffic ‘will improve the area immediately and substantially,’” Gothmann said. “This is not the first letter like this we’ve received. This is an area that needs attention by the council.”
Council Member Dean Grafos countered that the section only represented “nine-tenths of a mile out of 436 miles of Valley roads” and that low rents could be found “all over the city and county.”
Echoing Grafos and others, Towey said the debate over direction on Sprague “has divided our city for the past eight years.”
Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels said that, while not an advocate of the one-way format, a thorough feasibility study would be helpful in any decision-making process.
“The facts have to prove that out,” Schimmels said.
In other council news:
- Longtime Deputy City Attorney Cary Driskell was named city attorney, officially replacing Mike Connelly who stepped down earlier this year.
- The council reached a consensus to draft a letter of support on behalf of American Behavioral Systems, a court-ordered alternative sentencing and rehabilitative program that occupies a commercial space on Mission Avenue. Craig Phillips, director of ABS, told council members on Tuesday that the program was at risk of moving to Yakima, based on a recent request for proposals from the Washington state Department of Corrections.