By Todd Mielke, CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated, & Cheryl Stewart, executive director, Inland Northwest Associated General Contractors
Journal of Business article:Guest Commentary: North Spokane Corridor project advances many regional transportation opportunities
In recent weeks, the regional benefits of the North Spokane Corridor have been questioned by WashPIRG, a Seattle-based special interest group. Whenever groups outside our community, and thus unfamiliar with our economy and infrastructure needs, criticize the steps taken to improve our region, it’s important to remember that every community is different. And in the specific case of the NSC, it’s vitally important to remember the many solutions and opportunities it provides our community.
The NSC was envisioned decades ago as a way to route interstate and international traffic from the north to the state and interstate highway system in Spokane’s core. As Spokane’s population has grown and our role as a transportation hub has expanded, the region has been bearing the burden of interstate travelers on our local surface roadways. This substantial and increasing volume of truck and car traffic has placed the financial responsibility for all the street maintenance on our local community, using local funds.
The lack of a north-south route has increased air pollution, congestion, and traffic delays. Also, there is an increased threat of accidents with potentially hazardous chemicals as they are being transported through our community on arterials. Finding solutions to these problems is why this community has been fighting to build the NSC—and why the Legislature funded the project.
In addition to solving problems, the NSC also will provide great opportunities. The economic development potential in northeast Spokane has been hindered by limited freight mobility. The Northeast Public Development Authority continues to take steps to prime the area for investment through infrastructure upgrades, economic development partnerships, and land development. The City of Spokane has identified The Yard, approximately 500 acres of heavy- and light-industrial zoned property in the Hillyard neighborhood, as one of its targeted areas for incentives. But the NSC is the final piece of the puzzle for business and job growth in that area, as it provides the freight connection that is needed for an economy to expand.
As evidenced by voters approving Proposition 1 to fund Spokane Transit Authority’s 10-year plan to maintain, improve, and expand public transit service, the community supports and is already investing in the kind of transportation projects WashPIRG thinks are best. At the same time, it recognizes other needs in our community. To have smart and sustainable growth, diversity in transportation options is a must. And in the Spokane region, we need to move not only people, but products and crops, from aerospace components to wheat.
With funding for transportation projects always difficult to secure and maintain, now is not the time to let our foot off the gas (pun intended). Far from simply seeking “to take just minutes off the drive to low-density suburbs north of the city,” as WashPIRG quips, the NSC will reduce congestion, pollution, and street maintenance costs for local taxpayers and increase freight mobility and safety, while at the same time unlocking potential for parts of our city that haven’t seen any of the economic growth experienced in the Puget Sound region.