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Ground broken

SPOKANE -- "What we need around here is a north-south freeway." That's been the refrain around here for as long as anybody can remember, but now it appears that someone is listening. Yesterday in North Spokane, ground was broken on the first stretch of the North Spokane Corridor, a project 50 years in the making and estimated to cost $1.09 billion when fully completed sometime within the next 20 years.

"The groundbreaking is the most significant thing," says Keith Martin, the project's engineer for design with the state Department of Transportation. "We all felt once we break ground, it's a real corridor, and we'll have the commitments there to finish it. We'll find the funding."

The groundbreaking is for a 1.72-mile stretch that will run from Hawthorne Road to Farwell Road, where it joins Highway 2. Ultimately, U.S. Highway 395 will run from Interstate 90 near Freya, up Greene and Market streets, past Francis all the way to Wandermere. It will feature between eight and four lanes, including bike and pedestrian paths as well as a right-of-way for any future light rail projects that may want to follow the same corridor.

Still, it's a bit of a leap of faith, as all major highway projects are, because funding only comes through in chunks. The state had earmarked $122 million for the project, but that was eliminated with the passage of Initiative 695. While there is money for this first segment, Martin says if the state can reinstate that level of commitment, the federal government could fund the route by as much as 86.5 percent of the overall project.

Loaned officer

SPOKANE -- The City of Spokane is getting a new executive level officer to lead its economic development effort, and it doesn't even have to pay her salary. Thanks to the Avista Corporation, Kim Pearman-Gillman will spend at least a year leading the city's efforts on bringing more jobs -- especially the higher-paying variety -- to Spokane. She starts in October.

"This really gives the city a point person for economic development that they haven't had before," says Pearman-Gillman, a senior vice president with Avista Development. "It's a support mechanism for a lot of groups. How do we move projects through the system?"

Pearman-Gillman has been the CEO of INTEC, a new organization dedicated to preparing workers for the new economy. She has also overseen the redevelopment of Steam Plant Square, an Avista property, in conjunction with Wells and Company. And she has been a leader in developing the Davenport Arts District.

As in her past assignments, Pearman-Gillman sees bringing people together as her key function. "We have great energy in this community, but how do we get to a common vision and pull it forward?"

Her first step on the job will be to review all the projects currently in the pipeline and to familiarize herself with new economic development tools available. The state legislature has allowed tax-increment financing, something many other states have had for years. And the state has also granted Spokane the power to designate community empowerment zones, which can help projects that benefit needy areas.

"We have to look at the possibilities and see what is actually doable," she says. "It's good to talk about things, but we need to get some things done, too."
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