Highway Boondoggles: North Spokane Corridor

Photo:  Washington State DOT
Photo: Washington State DOT

In their fourth Highway Boondoggles report, U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group profile wasteful highway projects that state DOTs are building across the country. Our final boondoggle is the North Spokane Corridor. The proposed highway will slice through a historic Spokane neighborhood and take money from other transportation priorities in order to shave just minutes off the drive to low-density suburbs north of the city.

The North Spokane Corridor (NSC) is a proposed highway that will connect Interstate 90, which runs East-West through the center of Spokane, to U.S. Route 395 north of the city. The cost of the project is $1.5 billion, the vast majority of which will come from state funding sources.

The NSC has been in the works for decades — and has been a source of controversy the entire time, because it will slice through neighborhoods, including the historic community of Hillyard, and result in more than 500 homes being displaced. Hillyard business owners worry that the new highway will damage the district that they have worked to improve in recent years.

The project could also bring unwelcome changes to areas outside of Spokane. The Spokesman-Review newspaper estimates that the project will result in “quiet, rural areas in northeastern Washington [becoming] more crowded.” If that prediction plays out, and the new highway creates new demand for car travel north of Spokane, the highway would likely only provide a brief respite from congestion. 

Even under current conditions, the congestion benefits of the highway are small. The top listed benefit on the project homepage is that it will shave around 10 minutes off the trip from I-90 to Wandermere, a suburban neighborhood in the northern section of Spokane. Critics of the project have suggested that the current amount of traffic could be carried by a much smaller boulevard, which unlike a highway could be walkable and bikeable.

Meanwhile, Washington and Spokane have other important transportation needs, including:

  • Repairing roads and bridges. 67 percent of Washington roads are in poor or mediocre condition, eighth most in the country, and 26 percent of bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
  • Better transit in Spokane, which residents have supported at the ballot box. In November 2016 voters approved Proposition 1, “authorizing an increase in local sales and use tax of up to 0.2% to help maintain, improve and expand public transit in Spokane Transit’s service area.” Despite the new revenue, Spokane’s transit system will need to compete for future grants to complete planned projects.

The NSC also constitutes a major expense that will add to Washington’s already growing and costly debt. In 2015, Washington had $8.5 billion in highway debt, nine times more than in 2000. And in 2014, Washington spent $457 million on debt servicing in 2014, three times more than in 2000. This debt has created difficult questions for state officials. In February 2018, Washington’s treasurer warned lawmakers against putting a $1.3 billion revenue windfall toward a property tax cut, arguing it should instead be used to pay down state debt.

7 thoughts on Highway Boondoggles: North Spokane Corridor

  1. The Hillyard neighborhood was divided by James J. Hill in 1892 when he built the largest railroad yard west of the Mississippi in the county northeast of Spokane. The town of Hillyard incorporated west of those yards a few years later to give services to the 6,000 men working in those yards. Building a freeway next to the tracks that are still used today will not divide the neighborhood any more. The yard is gone today but there is 800+ acres of industrial zoned land with rail access and soon a freeway. The neighborhood is hoping for some job producing industries to move to that area and the city of Spokane is giving some incentives for industrial uses of that land. The Hillyard and Bemiss neighborhood could use jobs. Both are working with WSDOT and Eastern Washington University urban design class to make the freeway fit in the neighborhoods. The Children of the Sun path along side of the freeway is WSDOTs next issue, where should it go, what should it look like. Every other Monday the neighborhoods are meeting with WSDOT to figure that out.

  2. @Charles Hansen

    So you would have no problem with a new freeway cutting through your neighborhood? It’s really easy to say “This is needed so go ahead and build it” when it doesn’t affect you personally. There are other options than a freeway that would work much better.

    And a freeway NEVER “fits in the neighborhood”. If it did, people would be clamoring to live next to freeways and I doubt you can cite any freeway adjacent neighborhood anywhere in the country where this is true.

  3. 5.1 miles for $1.5Billion dollars. That’s ~$300million / mile.

    To save a small number of people 10 minutes on a drive to a super-low-density location.

    See, when you’re building transit, everyone complains when you add capacity that isn’t needed. When you’re building roads, you can build capacity specific when no no one needs it, and the same people who whine about transit will completely support you.

    The blindspot in this culture for cars is glaring, counterproductive, dumb, and expensive.

  4. I think you know nothing of what you speak. There has been very little displacement of Hillyard residents for the freeway. If you knew anything about the local area, you would know that the biggest displacement has been a few miles south where the freeway will eventually connect with I-90. You probably should know something about the area before commenting.

  5. This article reeks of ignorance of the Spokane area. The NSC is not displacing Hillyard residents and it is not dividing Hillyard. Hillyard has already been divided for decades by the railroad tracks running through it. The freeway will run along the railroad tracks that are there already. A simple glance at Google Maps will verify this. The actual displacement of residential area has already happened and it’s much farther south of Hillyard. Also, the NSC isn’t being built to save a few minutes of drive time for local commuters. The main purpose of the new freeway is to help truck and other traffic get from the I 90 in the south, to the highways heading north out the other end of the city towards north eastern Washington and Canada. As it is now, dozens of heavy trucks are driving up US2/ Division causing congestion and air pollution in stop and go traffic. Division is pretty much the only north/south route available thru the city as other main north/south routes are either indirect or have large vehicle restrictions. There are two large grocery warehouses in north Hillyard that are responsible for dozens of heavy trucks driving through Hillyard to come and go. The freeway will be right next to those warehouses giving a quick alternate pathway for those trucks and they will no longer need to drive though the surface streets in Hillyward. Other than the residential area around the southern most part of the NSC where it will connect to I90, the majority of the NSC cuts through unoccupied land or industrial areas that are easily relocated. This project is no where near a “boondoggle”. It is very much needed to reduce surface street congestion and help commercial vehicle traffic get through the city efficiently. It is very much needed and wanted by the people of the Spokane area.

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