For the past decade, businesses on Sprague Avenue have complained about traffic. Specifically, the lack of it.
Some blame Spokane County. To combat Sprague’s swelling traffic and clogged intersections, precipitated by the then-overstuffed freeway, the county turned Sprague into a westbound one-way in 2000. In 1999, before the conversion, over 34,000 cars traveled down Sprague, west of Farr Road, every day. Ten years later, only about 15,000 did.
“Where did businesses go?” wonders Dick Behm, owner of Behm’s Valley Creamery on Sprague. “They went with the lost cars.”
Behm is a member of the Spokane Valley Business Association, which has repeatedly pleaded to change Sprague back to a two-way street.
It looks like the association is getting its wish.
The Spokane Valley City Council is preparing a measure for the November ballot that would transform a one-mile section of Sprague and Appleway, its partner in the couplet, back to two-ways between Dishman-Mica and University roads. The reversion would come with beautified streets, repaved roads and new signals.
But Behm’s not happy. Two-way-advocating business owners — and at least one council member — are accusing the Council of intentionally driving up the cost of the ballot measure, with the beautification and other extras, which could convince voters to send it down in flames.
Spokane Valley decided to revert Sprague to a two-way years ago. But the plan was entangled within the sprawling Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan, an effort to give the city a “center.” But along came the current City Council majority, which was elected on promises to kill SARP, and, this year, they did.
Yet the two-way question survived.
Councilman Dean Grafos argues that even the possibility of Sprague changing directions has generated uncertainty, stymying growth in the region.
That’s why he’s supported a ballot measure — to settle the question and to give Valley voters a say.
“If they choose to spend $5 million, it’s up to them,” Grafos said at a recent Council meeting. “They’re going to get taxed on their property tax, as much as I hate to think about it.”
That price tag — currently at an estimated $6.4 million— has drawn the most ire from the city’s business association.
Only $1.6 million would go to the actual two-way conversion — for re-striping, as well as adding signals and legally required upgrades. An extra $1.8 million would go to repaving and upgrading stormwater systems, an overhaul that Public Works Director Neil Kersten says will happen anyway. In other words, tax or no, two-way or one, the city will need to spend at least $1.8 million.
When staff presented the additional cost at a recent Council meeting — including $1 million to $3 million in landscaping — the usually frugal Councilwoman Brenda Grassel advocated for the $3 million figure.
“Because Sprague is the main thoroughfare, we would want to put in the maximum amount for landscaping,” Grassel said.
But, citing its cost, Grassel says she isn’t going to vote for the ballot measure — the one she advocated to make more expensive.
“The people that are proposing that ballot measure are not in favor of it,” says dentist Phillip Rudy, a member of the business association.
“They’re loading the ballot measure with Mercedes-Benz-style, carte-blanche luxury landscaping.
They’re destined to kill it.”
Grassel doesn’t think she’s being unfair. She says she’s always been in favor of landscaping — if the city revamps Sprague, it might as well do it right, she says. Expensive landscaping packages are common during street overhauls these days, Kersten says.
But the business association has an ally in its speculation: longtime Councilman Bill Gothmann. He calls the ballot measure “dishonest,” “foolish,” and a “costly boondoggle.” The city could pay up to $15,000 just to put the measure on the ballot.
He’s long been in favor of the two-way transformation, but he doesn’t like a bond issue asking for a large tax increase. Instead, he’s urging the city to transform Sprague with existing funds.
“The fact is, this council wishes that bond issue to fail,” Gothmann says. “[The bond issue] won’t provide information on how [Spokane Valley residents feel] about one-way, two-way. It will provide information on how it feels about tax increases.”