Pin It
Favorite

Arterial Blockage 

by Kevin Taylor


Life is a game, Spokane is the board and you, my fine friend, are merely a pawn. And if you have kids or a job that requires driving from one end of Spokane to the other, you are a frazzled pawn. Thanks to voter approval last fall of a street repair bond -- the Holy Grail of local traffic engineers -- the annual summer road construction game of Arterial Blockage is in high gear.


It's nice that something is in high gear, because many commuters find themselves creeping along in low.


"Patience is going to be needed," says Tom Arnold, director of the city's traffic engineering department.


As he says that, he smiles a calm smile.


Arnold looks like a decent guy. He's pleasant and clean-cut. He wears a polo shirt from the Sydney Olympics. In short, he looks like your average Spokane guy, cheery and helpful.


You'd never know that by scheduling street repair projects, he has the diabolical power to bring the city to a standstill.


So you thought you could knife past the Third Avenue tear-up via the Maple Street Bridge? What about the day last week when the bridge resembled a parking lot in the sky?


Ooohh. That was a problem, Arnold says with mild-mannered shake of his head.


So you thought you could sidle around the Third Avenue and Maple Street Bridge cluster by whipping around on Government Way and doing the Bloomsday course in reverse?


Ha! Welcome to water main installation. You are stuck for 30 minutes at the cemeteries with the stroller crowd, not the Kenyans.


Trying to bust outta downtown? Quick, which north-south street has just shut down for construction cranes to set up? Which intersection is blocked by a utility crew? Which lanes are shut down so city workers can change bulbs in the streetlights?


Finally clear of downtown? Guess what, there's repaving on North Monroe and intersections closed to put in a roundabout near Albi Stadium.


It's one crazy, tangled mess blending into another until harried drivers are ready to fling $3.50 lattes around their cars like a 2-year-old's sippy-cup in a tantrum.


And that was just the appetizer.


"To add to the confusion," the amiable, imperturbable Arnold says, "we are starting work on Washington and Stevens."


Yes, Washington and Stevens, among the main traffic arteries up and down the South Hill, are being ripped apart for major repair starting now.


"If anything, we are ahead of schedule," the unflappable Arnold says.


Ahead of schedule to cause civic blood pressure to reach record levels? They track these things?


No. Unlike that rogue traffic engineer Darth Detour, Arnold has vowed to use his powers only for good.


"We have a lot of 100-year-old streets," Arnold says, adding that they in some instances were never built to a high standard in the first place.


North Monroe is a prime example, he says. When workers began grinding away the surface pavement to smooth things out, they hit bare dirt an inch-and-a-half down. Typical road construction has at least four inches of surface asphalt atop at least as much base material, Arnold says.


"And this is what everybody's driving on -- all the cars, all the heavy trucks," he says, betraying just a smidgeon of irritability. "It's no wonder the streets don't stand up."





But the voter-approved street repair bonds will change the face of Spokane ... or at least, like industrial botox, what's right under the face.


Underneath major arterials in Spokane lie a maze of wires, pipes and cables -- some active, some long abandoned. Sometimes you can only tell which is which by smacking them with a backhoe.


Which is what happened to halt traffic on the Maple Street Bridge last week.


"Someone hit a Qwest cable and they had to bump out into the intersection to repair it," Arnold says. Construction flaggers don't have the authority to override traffic signals, he says, and by the time a police officer reached the scene, traffic was at a standstill.


Farther down Third, excavators uncovered a large fuel tank buried under the street near an auto dealership. Nobody seems to know how it got there.


Matching grants allow the city to not only contract to dig up and repave a major arterial such as Third Avenue, but also replace century-old water mains with larger, newer pipes less prone to breaks and leaks.


The larger water mains along Third and Government Way allow the city to meet domestic needs far above levels that were predicted 80 to 100 years ago.


"My analogy is that good streets are like good furniture," Arnold says. "If you have a good solid piece of furniture you can sand out a blemish and refinish it. If it's just laminate over particleboard, if you break through the laminate then water gets in and the post begins to swell and the piece falls apart."


Without a reliable funding source, Spokane in the past has had the laminate of street repair.


"People wonder why our roads fall apart so quickly -- well, that's why," Arnold says. "Unfortunately, they were built that way, and we inherited them."


The street repair bond, he added, "Allows us to invest in the future."


For the next few years, however, just don't expect to get to the future in high gear.


One of the reasons Third Avenue is being done this summer, Arnold says, is that next summer the state Department of Transportation will be shutting down the Interstate 90 viaduct through Spokane for repair and guess where the detour traffic will go?


You know what they say: The road to hell is paved every summer.





Publication date: 06/02/05

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • Crash > Click > Cash
  • Crash > Click > Cash

    Lawyers and chiropractors already have your name, your address and the police report from your car accident — and they want you to hire them
    • Jul 21, 2016
  • Starting Small
  • Starting Small

    A village of tiny houses in Spokane Valley could serve as a model for fighting homelessness in the region
    • Jul 21, 2016
  • Drastic Action
  • Drastic Action

    Spokane among seven school districts sued by State Superintendent of Public Instruction; plus, trio of police-chief finalists are in town
    • Jul 21, 2016
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun
Bodies Human: Anatomy in Motion

Bodies Human: Anatomy in Motion @ Mobius Science Center

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Dec. 31

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Kevin Taylor

Most Commented On

  • Lane Ends Ahead

    Spokane wants to improve a mile-long section of Monroe — but that means taking away two lanes
    • Jul 7, 2016
  • Too Smart for School

    What happens when a 12-year-old prodigy tries to go to college in Spokane?
    • Jun 30, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

green zone


marijuana


Briefs


Election 2016


trail mix


Readers also liked…

  • A Senseless Death
  • A Senseless Death

    Family and friends search for answers in the wake of an unsolved South Hill killing
    • Dec 3, 2014
  • Path of Least Resistance
  • Path of Least Resistance

    Spokane Public Schools looks at reworking a grading system that drives students into the easiest classes
    • Jan 14, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation