Getting There: Near completion but yet unfinished, two major street projects go to rest for the winter

Monday, December 10, 2018

(As reported in The Spokesman-Review by Nicholas Deshais)

Next year, motorists and cyclists alike will have two new routes leading to Spokane’s core – one a revamped piece of history, the other a new road where none existed before.

For now, those two street projects remain undone and have gone into hibernation for the winter.

Sunset Boulevard coming up Sunset Hill was once part of one of the state’s first highways, named, perhaps unsurprisingly, Sunset Highway. Old photos show the view early motorists had when approaching Spokane on this downhill stretch, a stunning vista of a Western city.

For decades, though, Sunset Hill has been a drag, with cracked and uneven pavement, no shoulders for cyclists and a skinny and dangerous dirt path for the pedestrians who dared to walk the auto-dominated route.

But when the $2.5 million construction project between Royal Street and Lindeke Street is completed sometime this spring, the four lanes for vehicular traffic will be replaced with a lane heading downhill, two lanes going up, a bike path and a wide sidewalk that will also act as a shared use path. The bike lane will be separated from traffic by just a stripe of paint, but the path will have a curb and gutter between it and traffic.

Even though it’s unfinished, Sunset is open with its new configuration. Crews were just unable to get the pavement in place before the cold set in between F Street and Royal in the westbound lanes. The shared use path heading uphill also needs to be completed.

The newest elements on Sunset are the planned routes for cyclists. Where before, riding on Sunset was unwise and only for the burliest of cyclists, now anyone can feel safe riding on the separate path. The downhill bike lane, however, is far from ideal. Some sections of it are wide and buffered from traffic, while other sections are skinny and punctuated by storm drains.

Regardless, at the crest of the hill, Sunset’s bike and pedestrian facilities will meet another city project: a planned 3.2-mile shared-use path between Royal Street and Deer Heights Road where the city meets Airway Heights. The new Sunset path also runs close to both the Fish Lake and Centennial trails. The Fish Lake trailhead is a block south from the Government Way intersection, and a spur of the Centennial Trail, at the Sandifur Bridge, is just three-quarters of a mile away.

On the other side of downtown, work to finally complete Martin Luther King Jr. Way is very close. The road’s largely complete, an impressive feat considering its completion was first hampered by a dispute between the city and a property owner before Jack Frost got to meddling.

The third and final $3.7 million phase of the road – which will connect Division Street to Trent Avenue through the University District – will give motorists another route downtown. For cyclists, like Sunset, MLK Way provides more than one connection. First, a new spur of the Centennial Trail has been built in the U-District below the Hamilton overpass, where it connects with the Ben Burr Trail. And MLK Way has bike lanes in either direction, giving yet another option for folks riding downtown, to Gonzaga University or into the East Central neighborhood.

The project was scheduled to be completed last spring, but the city’s original design had the road cutting through the parking lot of Brown Building Materials. Brown, the owner, said the design would put him out of business because large trucks wouldn’t have been able to navigate the reduced parking area.

In October, Brown and the city settled the dispute, and work commenced.

A third major project that continues to hamper downtown mobility is the massive 2.2-million gallon stormwater tank being built into the bluff below the downtown Spokane Public Library. Spokane Falls Boulevard between Lincoln and Monroe remains closed to all traffic. The $22 million project is expected to wrap up in the fall of 2019, and traffic will flow for the first time in two years.

Other projects that are ongoing but are having less significant impacts to traffic include the stormwater tank being built at First Avenue and Adams Street in west downtown. Through the winter, First Avenue from Walnut to Jefferson Street will be open to traffic, Riverside Avenue will be open, and all lanes of westbound Sprague Avenue are expected to be open by Friday, Dec. 21. Lastly, a temporary three-way stop will be installed on Friday, Dec. 14, at Cedar Street and First.

In the East Central neighborhood, the stormwater facilities being built near East Sprague Avenue continue to keep Riverside Avenue and Napa Street, and Riverside and Lee Street, closed.