The Spokane Valley City Council deftly maneuvered through its agenda on Tuesday before stalling on a decision whether the electorate should vote on the direction of Sprague Avenue and Appleway Boulevard between University and Argonne roads.
After a detour into talks whether the vote should be advisory only, the council opted to set its GPS on first conducting a $40,000 study on the impacts of the two-way option on the arterials. That information is set to come before the council on July 12, and at that time it may decide to step on the accelerator for a November election or put the brakes on the whole discussion entirely.
“I think we’ll have enough information on the 12th whether to move ahead or not,” said Council Member Bill Gothmann.
The configuration of Sprague Avenue – and, by extension, parallel Appleway Boulevard – has been contentious for years. But the controversy ramped up in the years before Spokane County road engineers opted to make Sprague westbound from University to the freeway interchange and constructed eastward Appleway from Thierman to an abrupt end at University.
Almost immediately, business owners along Sprague complained they were no longer seeing the much-needed afternoon drive-time customers. Vacancies are particularly plentiful in the area between University and Argonne. The Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan, adopted in 2009, was commissioned to address the issue and restore Sprague and covert Appleway to two-way status in that particular area.
However, SARP was dumped by the “Positive Change” dominated council in 2011 and, along with it, plans for a two-way conversion. But on separate occasions the past two years, the idea of putting the Sprague/Appleway direction question on a ballot has been discussed with varying results.
Two weeks ago, City Manager Mike Jackson reported the council would have to move quickly if it was serious about a November election. The deadline to file paperwork with Spokane County is Aug. 16, and it would cost between $10,000 and $15,000 to do so.
But to figure out exactly what such a conversion would cost and the impacts to drivers, Jackson said Tuesday that two studies – the first dealing with any problems such a conversion would cause and a second for detailed traffic modeling – would have to be done that could cost upward of $100,000.
While the council ultimately agreed that first $40,000 study would be needed to determine whether or not to move forward with a vote – and the second detailed analysis that could cost $60,000 – Council Member Brenda Grassel said she believes most Valley residents just want the chance to have their say.
“I’m confused on why needing the dollar amount is so vital to this,” Grassel said. “I think the question isn’t cost, it’s whether it’s one-way or two-way.”
The idea of just putting forward an advisory vote – one which the City Council would not necessarily be legally bound to act upon – was then discussed. But Mayor Tom Towey said that simply asking the question without letting voters know how much such a monumental road engineering project would cost was disingenuous.
“If it’s just an advisory vote, attaching a dollar figure gives the citizens a little extra information they can make their decision on,” he said.
Gothmann said that dollar amount needs to be clear. For example, he said the actual conversion to two-way status has been estimated at around $1.5 million and that higher dollar amounts include landscaping, beautification, stormwater drainage, etc.
“There are more things to consider,” he said. “Just putting in a number and not saying what it’s for, I don’t think that’s right.”
Jackson also warned that the council needs to be prepared to follow through on the voters’ wishes.
“I think if you’re asking the question, it’s going to be done,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels said doesn’t believe the city has enough information to ask voters to decide anything.
“Here we are again with no solid facts to give to the public,” he said. “Most people just laugh at an advisory vote…as a legislative body, this is one of our duties.”