Don't Widen I-90 -- I wanted to write and applaud you on the incisive commentary by Robert Herold, in the January 3 edition of The Inlander, on the State Department of Transportation's (DOT) proposed widening of I-90. His article pretty much details the arguments, and his appeal for "a broader look before any big decisions are made" reflects the opinion of many of us who are opposed to the current DOT planning.
A 14- or 16- or 19-lane arterial through the heart of the city (the numbers seem to change with every public gathering) cannot be beneficial to the livability of any city. For a place like Spokane, planning like this can only serve to relegate it to a second-class city, rather than the type of city that it can become. We have it all here: the rivers, the mountains, the educational centers and the kind of social environment that can foster the best of what communities like Seattle and Portland have. A well-traveled friend told us recently that Spokane has one of the largest inventory of historic homes in the U.S. west of the Mississippi.
We need to utilize what we have and insure that those who, in their short-sighted zeal to attract any kind of perceived economic benefit, will not mortgage our long-term future. We need to entice businesses to locate here, and CEOs who want to raise their families here. You cannot do this if you have a massive arterial running through the middle of town. Rather than helping to restore our downtown, this proposal will serve to condemn it.
I am an engineer, albeit not a transportation engineer, and I agree that our formal training does not include those peripheral disciplines that infuse engineering planning with a more human face. I have talked to those transportation engineers with DOT involved in this project, and they appear to be nice, reasonable people, but their training and their orders are to build roads. And in my opinion, in the absence of strong pressure from this community to stop and assess the damage their planning will do, they will pave as much of this city as they can.
No Long-Range Vision -- Robert Herold's "Why widen I-90?" in The Inlander's January 3 edition hit the mark in criticizing DOT freeway expansion plans. However one may feel about the power and influence of highway construction in America, the worst results seem to occur in conditions just like ours -- where broad implications are poorly understood, where leaders are desperate, distracted or disinterested and where long-range vision is in short supply.
People often don't fully appreciate how completely roads and freeways affect their lives, but in fact they form the basis for our built environment, and consequently, our social and political world. Obviously, if Spokane is to survive it must accommodate cars, but if it is to truly prosper, roadways must be planned in consideration of everything else. Political leaders take note: this project can either support our city's brightest prospects, or condemn the energies of the next two or three generations to mitigation.
If the Lincoln Street Bridge was a proposal ignorant of Spokane's heart, the proposals shown for I-90 ignore the rest of our city's being. More than Strong Mayor, more than Comprehensive/Downtown/Shoreline Plan, more than even Hatfield or McCoy, a project of this magnitude will enable -- or cripple -- Spokane's future.
Herold's mention of I-90's western end at Mercer Island makes a terrific point: there, residents had a firm understanding of their community's identity and value, and insisted that it be respected -- effectively forcing good design into the process. If we don't quickly articulate our own dreams, Spokane's section of I-90 will illustrate just how much we value freeways, and how little we value the community they pass through.
This is Not L.A. -- Kudos to Robert Herold and The Inlander for raising some important issues for Spokane relative to the bizarre plan to expand I-90. Does Spokane really need a 19-lane, L.A. freeway-type expansion ripping through the heart of the city? It seems odd that the idea for such a grotesque monument to yesterday's transportation systems would come along in the wake of the city's recently completed comprehensive plan aimed at making the central city more livable.
Part of Spokane's charm comes from fact that previous knot-headed federal policies like urban renewal thankfully bypassed the town, leaving a charming number of early 20th-century architecture intact for current renovation efforts. The recent success of First Night activities, added to Hoopfest, Pig Out in the Park and Bloomsday demonstrate that citizens will flock to a user-friendly downtown. How will the machine-gun staccato of 18-wheelers' air brakes and the diesel fog from a massive freeway expansion improve that picture?
As for the hypothetical NAFTA-induced traffic in goods, racing up and down the corridor from Canada to Mexico 20 years hence, has anyone considered improving the existing rail service as an alternative to burying the future quality of life of downtown Spokane under a river of rebar and concrete? And when will we hear from the city's elected leadership on this frightening, neighborhood-wrecking proposal?
Watch Out for DOT -- I read the commentary by Robert Herold on the I-90 project and want to thank you for publishing his editorial. I am the vice-chairman of the East Central Neighborhood Council and the owner of Madeleine's Antiques and Home Decor in the South Perry Business District. I am also past president and co-founder of the South Perry Business Association. My first involvement with the Department of Transportation (DOT) involved their initial consideration to run an arterial up to the South Hill on Perry. Public outcry and pressure from our legislators were instrumental in defeating that project (although I fear it was just a postponement).
The proposed enlargement of I-90 work will devastate the east neighborhood where I live and operate my business. The North/South Freeway Environmental Impact Statement estimates that of the 503 housing units that will be demolished as part of the project, 374 will be in East Central. And 47 of 53 multifamily housing units that will be destroyed are located in East Central. Our neighborhood is bearing the brunt of the demolition of housing for this project. This is not fair.
DOT recently came to our neighborhood council meeting requesting a buy-off for the work that will be done at Altamont and the freeway. They touted in their discussions how cooperative we had been throughout this project. I do not think that in the future we will be as cooperative as they have previously experienced. This project is bad for this neighborhood and bad for the city. Thank you again for having the courage to publish Mr. Herold's commentary.
Mel L. Silva
Don't Ruin Old Neighborhoods -- I recently read Robert Herold's editorial regarding the Department of Transportation's proposed expansion of the freeway through downtown and the East Central neighborhood. I want to say I completely agree with his view. I remember an urban planning class I took in college more than 20 years ago. There I learned that the city of Spokane had, per capita, more homes over 70 years old than any other city its size or larger in the USA. I wonder if that remains true today? I remember the discussion, with the class and professor, where we talked about why this was so. He said the freeway had stopped the expansion of the downtown area to the south, preserving some of the "old" neighborhoods, or at least mitigating the wholesale destruction of them. I think he missed the point. Anyone could come up with that view by looking at a road map.
My view is that the negative cost to our cultural, historical and social heritage and current lifestyle may have been greater than the economic plusses created by the freeway. That figure gets even more negative when you consider this all has happened in about 40 years. How will we ever have a 200- or 300-year history and maintain something other than pictures in a museum if we do not protect it now?
Even without further expansion of the freeway, the damage to the East Central neighborhood -- once as nice a middle class neighborhood as the Manito Park area -- is well documented and continues to this day. Unless one has seen the pictures, the beauty of the neighborhoods that the freeway cut through was phenomenal -- just cut a couple of hundred feet out of Rockwood Boulevard, for example, and you get the idea.
Changing zoning laws is easier when the economic base of a neighborhood is low. We cannot use the "that is their problem" defense, as now the freeway designers want to do the same, or more of the same, through downtown, an area in the middle of a rebirth. Even in stronger economic areas, the slide of downtown is tough to halt. The expansion of hospital row, primarily Sacred Heart and Deaconess, continues to overtake part of the heart of our city.
Some may say that the hospitals and the freeway are unrelated, but the damage to our community is consistent. I have been fortunate to call Spokane my home of nearly 25 years. I have been active in the historic preservation community and currently sit on the board of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, and I can tell you that we have something unique in this town -- a historical heritage, that came from a time when the wealth of our community was comparable with that of San Francisco. Most other places have seen this heritage torn down. Can you imagine having a neighborhood such as Sumner Blvd. so close to downtown in Seattle? Well, they did once! Buildings and freeways sent that area to oblivion decades ago.
It is time to say no, time to put a halt to the methodical march of expansion and destruction. We have something to protect here. When you add up the positive side of maintaining neighborhoods, it would take more semi-trucks on a new freeway than we can imagine to offset that social good.