At last week’s Spokane Valley City Council candidates forum, the topic of Sprague Avenue came up plenty of times. Landscaping, the business climate, signage and even the number of lanes on the busy commercial thoroughfare all got touched upon at one point or another.
What wasn’t discussed much at the Sept. 29 gathering was the future direction of Sprague Avenue and Appleway Boulevard.
That, in part, has to do with the fact that the question of whether or not to revert Sprague and change Appleway to two-way roadways between University and Argonne has been left for voters to decide on Nov. 8.
In August, the Spokane Valley City Council settled on the amount of $2,142,000 as what it would take to make do the basic work – striping, signaling and American Disability Act upgrades – to make the conversion. But rather than decide to spend the money themselves, council members opted to let voters choose whether or not they wanted to bear the cost through their property taxes via a bond sale to be paid back over a maximum term of 20 years.
While the amount won’t be much of dent in property owners’ wallets – depending on the interest rate the city receives (anywhere from 4 to 6 percent) – it will still take a 60-percent supermajority for passage. It’s estimated that it would cost about $3.30 to $3.90 each year for the owner of a $150,000 home.
Council Member Bill Gothmann voted against putting the issue on the ballot, saying it didn’t make sense for citizens to have to use property taxes. Road improvements, he argued, are paid through by tax-funded grant dollars and city cash matches, which also come from taxes.
He was joined in voting no by Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels.
“I still say, and I’ve said it before, I think it’s a question for the council,” Schimmels said at the time. “I will not support it.”
The upcoming election also wasn’t supported the late Dick Behm, who passed away last month. Behm had been a longtime supporter of two-way traffic on Sprague, saying studies had shown that businesses relied on eastbound drive-home traffic to survive.
However, he believed the council was trying to kill the Sprague conversion by “making it unnecessarily too expensive” on the ballot.
Candidates running for City Council, who have been knocking on doors for support and meet constituents, have indicated many they speak with are in favor of leaving the couplet alone. Others have said they hope the city eventually acquires the right-of-way to extend Appleway to Evergreen – or even Liberty Lake.
“More than 80 percent who I’ve spoken with say to leave it alone,” said Council Member Arne Woodard, who is running for office in November.
Along the way to Election Day, there have been some detours. Council Member Dean Grafos paid a visit to the Spokane Valley Fire Department Board of Commissioners on Sept. 26 to discuss the issue surrounding the one-minute, 20-second delay when fire crews from Station 1, which is located west of University Road on Sprague Avenue, when they must travel to calls east of that location. That problem has been cited by Gothmann and others as one more reason to change Sprague back to two-way.
Grafos and others have argued that the issue could have been addressed earlier by the fire department, but a switch back to two-way arterials had been part of the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan before it was eliminated by the council earlier this year. The department is currently taking a wait-and-see attitude until after the election on how to deal with Station 1.
The City Council initially had supported a $6.5 million bond, with the extra dollars going toward repaving and stormwater ugrades, plus another $3 million landscaping costs. That amount, however, was pared down to the $2.14 million figure.
“I do believe it’s the people’s decision,” Mayor Tom Towey has said. “They’re the ones who are going to pay for it. They’re the ones who are going to have to get it out of their pocket to pay for it.”
The cost to the city to put the bond question on the general election ballot is $25,000.