Long-Awaited US 395 North Spokane Corridor Reaches Halfway Point
After nearly eight decades, the U.S. 395 North Spokane Corridor (NSC) is more than half complete, with $879 million in funding secured for the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to complete the 10-mile, limited access freeway and connect drivers to Interstate 90.
"When I hired on here 35 years ago, I did not think we would ever see it built," says Bob Hilmes, Project Engineer with WSDOT. "Since 2004, I have been involved with the construction side on eight of the segments we built. Now with funding for the second half, there is light at the end of the tunnel."
Cutting Travel Time and Pollution
The six-lane NSC will stretch from Wandermere through Spokane to I-90 and is designed for traffic to move at 60 mph. Travel time, when the road is complete, will decrease from 30 minutes to approximately 12 minutes. Freight traffic increased in the corridor by 58 percent from 1993 to 2003. Approximately 7.2 million tons of freight, valued at $13.5 billion, pass through Spokane annually.
"The driving force for this [project] is freight movement," Hilmes says. "It will be an economic boom, and the arterials will work better and be safer."
The department expects fewer trucks and through traffic will use the city's arterials, with a freeway available. That should result in less air pollution, with fewer vehicles idling at traffic lights and an estimated $22 million annually in avoided collision costs.
Additionally, development and redevelopment of commercial and industrial acreage along the new freeway has begun. About 2,100 acres are available.
The NSC contains a bicycle/pedestrian trail, the Children of the Sun Trail, which connects to the Centennial Trail and other trail systems and neighborhoods.
During the past 20 years, the department has held more than 620 public meetings about the NSC, including informational open houses and formal hearings. Interested citizens and WSDOT staff members also have discussed the project at one-on-one meetings.
"We are making sure we are building what the public wants, not just with the trail but with the road," Hilmes says. "We are building the facility for them, not doing something to them."
A Long Time Coming
Although the project broke ground in 2001, the state conceived a need for the highway back in 1946 and spent 50 years researching the prospect, planning, and gaining public and legislative support. It began with a 1946 traffic survey showing a need to relieve congestion on a main city arterial.
"It went in and out of favor and had several different alignments considered," Hilmes recalls. "Once we pursued an alignment, there was public opposition."
Funding to date includes $140 million in federal dollars and $475 million in state dollars, for a total of $615 million. The first 5.5 miles, completed in 2012, was built primarily with the State Nickel Gas Tax Package, which provided $321 million to fund the project from 2003 to 2011, allowing for design, right-of-way purchases and construction of a portion of the freeway. Two years later, the State 9.5 cent, Transportation Partnership Act (TPA) gas tax provided $152 million for the project, and subsequently the Washing State Legislature allocated $28 million more in TPA funds. Two federal TIGER funds, totaling $35 million, allowed for paving and grading of the first half of the highway.
"Instead of half the freeway, we were able to do a full build out," Hilmes says. "That showed people we were building a freeway and put a focus on building the rest of the freeway."
Current and Future Work
Two smaller projects are under way. Max J. Kuney Co. of Spokane is constructing two mainline freeway bridges across Freya Street to connect the existing highway to a section through the Hillyard industrial area. Work began in spring 2017 and is anticipated to take about 18 months.
In May, Red Diamond Construction of Spokane received a $382,482 contract to provide drainage, curb and sidewalk work on city streets adjacent to and dead ending at the NSC. The project will improve the aesthetics of the area. The state DOT has cleared parcels obtained for right of way. More than 500 parcels were taken.
"If we leave buildings up, we have problems maintaining them," Hilmes says. "We moved forward with removing what needed to be removed."
State Connecting Washington funding will provide funds to complete the corridor, with different amounts specified for expenditures every two years between 2017 and 2029 for design and construction. The department will consider design-build delivery methods.
Designing Around Challenges
A project of this magnitude is not without its challenges and difficult moments. Designing the interchange with U.S. 2, the department planned for it to go over the NSC, but investigative boring uncovered perched water. Consequently, the designers rerouted the road, so that the NSC passes above U.S. 2, which had a natural flow to a nearby stream.
"It has improved the cleanliness of the stream, with the addition of the perched water," Hilmes says. "We also had unsuitable clay material."
The department constructed a structural roadway section using quarry spalls that would support the roadway and serve as a conduit for the perched water to pass through it.
In the upcoming roadwork, the department is dealing with contamination of a petroleum storage tank and diesel tank and related spills at a former rail yard. Initially, it planned to remove 10 to 15 feet, adding clean soil, and letting the new road serve as a cap. But then, it was discovered the tank had leaked. That contamination had migrated 170 feet below the surface and sat on the aquifer covering about seven acres.
WSDOT had considered changing the alignment, but the roadway would have had to go 35 feet up and over the railroad, moving the road close to homes, rather than an at-grade design. The Department has now come up with a plan to slightly realign the road about 100 feet to the east to avoid interfering with the clean up operations.
During the next 12 years, the Connecting Washington funding will materialize, and the project will progress generally from north to south, starting in the fall of 2017. Hilmes plans to stay on and shepherd the project through much of its completion.
"We are building something that provides a long-term future use and benefit for the public," Hilmes concludes.