Monday, June 10, 2019

The North Spokane Corridor is coming. … no seriously, it is, and quickly!

By Ryan Overton

Alright Spokane, it’s time to talk.

We know. We’ve heard it a thousand times. The North Spokane Corridor (NSC) will never be finished. To some the NSC is like a unicorn, often dreamed about but with no evidence of its existence, well. ... We get it. Building the NSC has been quite the process.
So we decided it’s time to have a heart to heart, and in this 3-part blog series we will give a full overview of what has been constructed, the struggles associated, what we are currently working on and looking ahead to its completion. Because this mysterious unicorn is becoming a reality.
The US 395 present and future interchange in Wandermere.

What is it?
Not familiar with the North Spokane Corridor project? In short, it’s a project to improve mobility by allowing drivers and freight to move north and south through Spokane from I-90 to US 395 at Wandermere. Once complete, it’ll decrease travel time and congestion while improving safety.

The beginning
Any good story starts with some history, and with the NSC, that history is long. The NSC has been discussed since the mid-1940’s with little movement. Proposals had tried and failed. But in the mid-1990’s buzz surrounding the NSC began to build. The first hurdle that was needed to get the ground moving was the final NSC Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) which was approved in April 1997. This meant that what was once a myth might actually become something.
The initial structure being built for the US 395 Wandermere interchange in June 2010.

In August 2001, the NSC broke ground with the first project, “Hawthorne Road to US 2 Grading.” No pavement was poured, but ground was moved, leaving one big missing piece: funding.

Our first large funding allocation came in 2003 when the State Nickel Gas Tax Package provided $321 million to the project. That funding covered roughly 23 percent of the total costs needed to build the NSC. This funded projects between 2003 and 2011, providing design, right-of-way purchases and construction of Francis to Farwell, the US 2 Wandermere interchange and US 2 Lowering projects.
An aerial view of the US 395 Wandermere
 interchange construction project.

More good news came in 2005 with passing of the Transportation Partnership Act (TPA). This allocated the NSC $152 million for projects between 2007 and 2019, meaning the project was about one-third funded. This funding went to right-of-way acquisitions north and south along I-90 between the Liberty Park and Sprague Avenue interchange. This also provided funding to design the southbound lanes project between Francis/Freya and Farwell interchanges. The NSC received $45 million in Federal “TIGER” funds to construct the southbound lanes project, Parksmith Road interchange and the first BNSF Rail Realignment. An additional $28 million of TPA funds were allocated to the NSC in 2009. It was that same year that the first portion, Francis to Farwell, opened to traffic.

The biggest milestone so far
The most visible milestone came in October 2012 when traffic opened on the 5½-mile stretch from Wandermere to Francis Ave. This is the section of road that most people know as the NSC today. The same year saw construction begin on the Francis Avenue bridge replacement project which opened in 2014. Still, more than half of the funds needed to finish the NSC had not been allocated.

Connecting Washington
That changed in 2015 with the Connecting Washington package passed by the Legislature, providing the final $879 million needed to complete the project. This is where Spokane’s unicorn turned from myth into reality, as it meant we could finish the last five miles to tie into I-90.
Steel girders being hung for the US 395 interchange at Wandermere in September 2010.

Since 2001 there has never been a year that the NSC hasn’t been worked on. We understand it’s been slow-going, and we hear you. Besides environmental studies, right-of-way acquisitions, public hearings and other behind-the-scenes work, it hasn’t always been evident. Add to that winter shutdowns on the east side of our state when weather makes road construction almost impossible for months, and it can seem that nothing is happening.
Columns and steel girders going up at US 395 at Wandermere in September 2010.

It’s been a challenging journey and there’s still plenty of work to do, but this 10½-mile unicorn is slowly being born.

Next week in this series we’ll look at current projects and what to expect the next couple years. There are big changes coming and it’s time to get excited.


Unknown said...

Can you post updated pictures of the progress from Francis south?

JP Maxwell said...

As one who travels over Snoqualmie Pass over 175 times a year, including during snowstorms and sub-freezing temperatures, and who has also watched the progress being made of the Snoqualmie Pass I-90 East construction project, even in snowy winter months I find there to be no legitimate reason why the Spokane North/South corridor project is taking so long. One reason may be from personal observation that very few workers are employed on this project. Another is the lack of cooperation between the county and state on varying levels. I understand that Spokane soil freezes in the winter time, is often covered with snow, and therefore the weather is not conducive to construction projects. However, witnessing the progress of 2 temporary bridges being constructed in Cle Elum and Ellensburg over the winter as well as final touches being put into place over Snoqualmie Pass I find the excuses given as to why the North/South freeway is taking so long to construct are seemingly without merit.

WSDOT said...

In our next blog post we will have more photos of current progress.

Unknown said...

I find it totally nuts that it is going to take 3 years to build 2 roundabouts and a bridge over Wellesley. I have seen a lot longer bridges built over the Spokane river in less than 2 years.

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