Solid Progress In Spokane

Story by Carl Molesworth | September 28, 2010

The North Spokane Corridor's long trek from dream to reality may be far from over, but the Washington State Department of Transportation and its contractors are definitely making progress toward that goal. Currently, three projects are under way, and a fourth is set to start as soon as the weather allows.

First discussed way back in 1946 when Spokane officials began looking for a way to relieve traffic congestion on Division Street, it took more than 50 years of research, planning, legislation, and public input to gain approval for the North Spokane Corridor. Other arterials developed during that time, such as Hamilton Street and the Maple/Ash couplet, but one by one they clogged with traffic as well. Finally, in 1988 the WSDOT recommended construction of the freeway in Spokane's northeast quadrant, but planning, permitting and design ate up another 13 years before ground was broken on the first NSC project, Hawthorne Road to SR 2 Grading, in August 2001 (see PB&E Oct. 7, 2002).

From that small first grading job, the NSC project has grown into a major undertaking for the WSDOT office in Spokane. That should come as no surprise, considering the project involves building a major freeway through metropolitan Spokane along the 10.5-mile corridor from I-90 downtown to US 395 at Wandermere. The project also includes the construction of more than 10 miles of pedestrian/bicycle trails, which will link strategically located park-and-ride lots along the route and interface with the Centennial Trail at the Spokane River. Enough room is reserved in the freeway median to accommodate light rail or other high-capacity transit in the future.

When completed, the North Spokane Corridor will be a 60-mile-per-hour, limited access highway with a direct connection to I-90 just west of the existing Thor/Freya Interchange. Other interchanges will be placed at locations such as Trent Avenue (SR 290), Wellesley Avenue, Francis/Freya Street, Parksmith Drive, US 2, and US 395 at Wandermere.

The estimated project cost is $2.1 billion in 2006 dollars. Over a 20-year buildout timeframe, with risk and inflation included, the cost currently is estimated at $3.3 billion.

The NSC project is being developed in two major sections, said Larry Larson, project engineer for WSDOT. So far, all of the work has been done in the first section, called Spokane River North, to establish the corridor from the river to US 395 at Wandermere. The second section, Spokane River South, has not yet received funding. It will extend the corridor between I-90 and the Spokane River and also include a Collector/Distributor system of six lanes along I-90 between the Liberty Park and Sprague Avenue interchanges.

Larson said he isn't worried about the funding for Spokane River South because, "it's kind of common" for large projects such as this one to receive piecemeal appropriations over a long period of time.

"They just do it in chunks," he observed. "Otherwise, we'd never get started."

Six Contracts

But started they are. With Washington's passage of a five-cent gas tax increase in 2003, WSDOT was able to embark on the first phase of work between Francis Avenue and Farwell Road, which comprised six separate contracts.

The first NSC "Nickel" contract, Farwell Road Lowering, started construction early 2004 and is now complete. The second "Nickel" contract, Gerlach to Wandermere, is also complete.

The other four projects are currently under contract:

  • The Francis to US 2 Structures contract was awarded to the Max J. Kuney Co. of Spokane for $17.2 million. Work is under way on the bridges at Fairview, Market, Parksmith, Shady Slope, and Perry.
  • The $10.5-million Freya to Fairview Grading and Structures contract was awarded to Steelman-Duff Inc. of Clarkston. The work includes constructing bridges at Lincoln and Gerlach roads; completing earthwork between Freya Street and Fairview Road; realigning portions of Freya and Fairview; and improving the intersections at Francis/Freya and Francis/Market. Nearly 1 million cubic yard of excavation in involved, along with modifications to various utilities.
  • The Freya to Farwell PCCP Paving contract, at $19.5 million, was awarded to Spokane-based ACME Concrete Paving Inc. Now in its preliminary stages, the work includes constructing the northbound lanes between Farwell Road and Freya Street. This 4.4-mile stretch of roadway will require 100,000 square yards of Portland Cement Concrete to pave. Other work items include approach slabs and bridge barrier on the remaining bridges, plus construction of the right-hand-turn lane from US 2 to Farwell Road and improvements to Farwell between US 2 and Cherry Street.

According to WSDOT, this contract will complete the first drivable section of the NSC and is expected to open to traffic in early 2009.

  • The BNSF Railroad Tunnel contract was awarded recently to Scarsella Bros. Inc., Seattle, for $17.3 million. This project will begin in the spring to construct a 1,330-foot-long concrete arch tunnel to carry the NSC freeway over the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks east of Market Street. The structure will consist of approximately 260, 6-foot-long precast concrete segments and will be 54 feet wide to allow it to accommodate a second track in the future.

More to Come

The second phase of work under the "Nickel" funding, consisting of two projects, will go out for bid later this year, Larson said.

  • US 2 Lowering, with funding of $67.3 million, will lower US 2 from the vicinity of Farwell Road to Deadman Creek to accommodate the NSC interchange with US 2. The project will include the realignment of Shady Slope Road and the construction of eight bridges. This contract will be complete by mid 2011.
  • US 2 to Wandermere will complete a drivable link between US 2 and Wandermere through the construction of paving and two bridges. It is expected to be complete in early 2010 and is funded at $45.7 million.

Larson has been working on the NSC project since Halloween 2003, when he joined the team assistant project engineer. At this point, there is no telling how long he would have to stay with the project to see it through to the end.

According to WSDOT, if full funding were available today, it would take approximately 10 years to complete the NSC freeway. But that's not the case. And as with any project, the longer it takes to get funding for construction, the longer it will take to complete.