Letters to the Editor

by Chase Davis & r & & r & Road Facts & r & As we read the guest editorial from Chase Davis of the Sierra Club ("Near Freeway, Near Perfect," 4/27/06), we felt a need to comment. First off, we welcome the continuing debate on this transportation facility and would expect this type of a "no-growth, no transportation improvement" position from the Sierra Club. However, Davis does make some factual errors and exaggerations to bolster his argument.

His main factual error is regarding I-90 in downtown Spokane. The Washington State Department of Transportation does not have any plans whatsoever to widen I-90 in downtown. All accusations of that nature have come from individuals such as Davis or other small special-interest groups.

Also, read the Spokane County Comprehensive Plan. The North Spokane Freeway is in it. The entire 10-mile length of the freeway, except a short 1,500-foot segment near U.S. 2, is within the Urban Growth Boundary.

In his comments, Davis fails to note that the WSDOT is required by federal law to purchase all properties at fair market value and to pay the expenses to relocate displaced residents and businesses into comparable properties.

The "number of lanes" issue also pops up. Mr. Davis seems flabbergasted at the thought of an 18-lane transportation corridor in east Spokane. What he forgets to mention is that 12 of those lanes already exist. Yes, 12 lanes -- six through lanes on the freeway, two on/off ramps, two lanes on Second Avenue, two on Third Avenue.

Davis' claims that the project is "over budget" is also a fabrication. In this respect, he has misinterpreted the Department's due diligence in tracking the potential cost of the project due to inflation, rising commodity prices, and real estate costs as a budgetary function. The $1.4 billion is the cost in today's dollars with the $2.2 billion amount calculated as the price if construction is spread over 20 years. The project only becomes more expensive the longer we wait.

Finally, Davis asks that the WSDOT fully disclose the entire plan. The Department has done just that with all of the plans, profiles, property acquisition processes, interchanges, and construction project status on the Internet. In fact, the entire Final and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement -- more than 1,400 pages -- is available on the Web, and has been since 2000.

Visit the freeway Web site at www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/US395/NorthSpokaneCorridor

AL GILSON & r & Information Officer, WSDOT Spokane

Great Destroyers & r & As a former a Spokane resident, I read with great interest Chase Davis' commentary, "Near Freeway, Near Perfect" (4/27/06). I couldn't agree more with Davis' statement, "sprawl and wasting energy are out, and urban revitalization is in." When I visit Spokane now I can hardly recognize the downtown, so dramatically has it improved in the last decade or so.

Since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, I have seen the urban progress that occurs when freeways are torn down, not when they are erected. One of these, the Central Freeway, was, like the NSF, wrangled over by voters and city officials for years. But since its recent tear-down, a once rundown and crime-ridden neighborhood has already flourished, new businesses have opened, existing businesses have thrived, and residents have enjoyed a reduction in crime. Another freeway, the Embarcadero Freeway, was effectively taken off San Francisco's hands by earthquake damage in 1989. That freeway had seemed like a good idea when it was conceived in the '50s, with the intent of allowing quick passage across the city. In reality, its absence has proved a far greater boon to the city than did its presence, with the entire waterfront now revitalized, beautified, and thriving.

This is not to say that there isn't a need to facilitate travel for countless people every day; it's just that cities across the U.S. are learning that big freeways are not the best way to do it. In many cases freeways don't end up working at all, but only cause endless gridlock and the stress and costs associated with it.

This is why my jaw dropped when I read in Mr. Davis' commentary that seven high-speed commuter rail systems could be bought for the same money as the NSF! This figure not only shows how staggering the price tag of the NSF is -- it also offers a suggestion for a better long-term solution to Spokane's traffic problems.

I know that many Spokanites may not presently favor public transport, and that some people may even associate their cars with a kind of freedom, but I believe this is only because Spokane does not yet have a precedent for truly efficient public transport. If reliable and efficient mass transit were offered, it would improve commuters' lives, as well as attract more people downtown. However, if Spokane continues to address its growth by adding more roads, its residents will surely end up in the same situation as the residents of so many urban centers -- stuck in daily gridlock, watching with dread as gas prices rise and wishing there were another way.

The beauty of the NSF project is that there is another way. It is not too late to learn from other cities. There is still time to abandon the NSF project and focus on solutions that truly will benefit the community as a whole.

JESSICA KOMAN & r & Pinole, Calif.

Mozart Deserved Better & r & My frustration with The Inlander's frequent release of off-the-mark film reviews has reached a crescendo with your curiously exacting treatment of Mozart and the Whale ("Spokane Opus," 4/13/06). Though I tend to find Luke Baumgarten's offerings the most reliable, as well as entertaining, among your reviews, I can't believe that in this case we saw the same movie.

The most mystifying example is a claim that surpasses mere hyperbole -- that the film's "ham-fisted" musical score "intrudes loudly" on (even "crashes mightily" against) "every" scene. Armed with this warning, I waited in vain through more than half of the screening for any musical "intrusion." In fact, I recall hearing no musical score during that portion -- normally a hallmark of superb scoring technique. As for the succession of contemporary tunes, which is more noticeable in the second half of the production, I personally found it lyrically and subliminally well suited to the sensibilities of the characters portrayed. And I had relatively little difficulty following the verbal exchanges above Mozart's soundtrack, compared with those in, for example, the highly impressive Garden State, or any number of noise-ridden, recently popular suspense thrillers.

What is unjust in Baumgarten's review to both the film and its potential audience, however, is his own excessively literal reading of that audience's need for cues regarding the experience of Asperger's Syndrome and autism. In a story where Asperger's is affectionately tailored to offer a keen sense of the all-too-familiar feelings of human isolation, misunderstanding and the unwanted distortions they introduce into love and relationships, we hear more than enough early references to autism and Asperger's to watch with fascination as the day-to-day reality of these abstractions play out before your eyes and ears. And any alleged need for a non-autistic "straight man" (or woman) will be amply addressed, first, by the perspectives most viewers will bring to they theater anyway, and secondly, by Radha Mitchell's balanced performance.

While I can understand a reviewer's temptation to rate the general film-going public's sophistication low, your critic does the natural audience for a film like this a disservice by holding it in the same regard.

I count myself by no means a cheerleader for Spokane, but I do notice when a legitimate opportunity to celebrate its possibilities is compromised. Mozart and the Whale is a movie that Spokane can be proud of for both its sensitive visual rendering of the city and its local connections. It is among those creative testaments, wrought each year to how excellent our community is -- or at least can be.

LOYAL COWLES & r & Spokane, Wash.

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