May 23, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 5

Expanding area traffic visions

Public comments from first meeting factored into West Plains transporation plans

The second regional transportation meeting hosted by the city of Spokane drew more comments on the future of West Plains roadways last week. Held at Airway Heights’ Sunset Elementary School Thursday, May 16, the meeting expounded on a previous one in March where transportation representatives once again listened to members of the public to form a long-term transportation plan for the region.

“This is probably a 100-year plan, so don’t expect this to be plopped down in short order,” Louis Meuler, city of Spokane senior planner, said.

Among the major areas residents identified as problem areas included the intersection of Hayford Road and Highway 2. With traffic going west to Fairchild Air Force Base and across Washington state as well as north to Northern Quest Resort and Casino, the intersection has become a growing part of Airway Heights.

Meuler said the Washington State Department of Transportation was also looking at the I-90 Medical Lake exit.

Studio Cascade principal William Grimes said the plan wasn’t just focusing on roadways and arterials, but also would factor in other non-motorized methods as well, while maintaining the character of the area. At the last meeting, residents noted they had a desire to enhance Highway 2 throughout Airway Heights.

Grimes said there was a need to improve access for pedestrians and bicyclists along Highway 2.

“It’s not just cars and trucks,” he said.

Groups from the previous meeting indicated a preference toward a network density of streets, which would create smaller square blocks with greater number of streets throughout an area. Traffic flows better in a setting with more two-lane streets rather than one four- or six-lane highway, leading to less congestion. Having a greater number of smaller streets helps to spread the amount of motorized vehicles around, rather than working with one main thoroughfare.

“It’s not all on a single corridor, you have opportunities to move around,” Grimes said.

There were a few surprises from the first meeting’s breakout sessions, however.

“One thing that surprised us was the importance of Sprague as an east and west connector,” Grimes said.

Grimes and other officials were also impressed at the importance of Trails Road, which brings traffic west from Spokane, and becomes Hayford Road.

“I think even more significant to us was the importance of Trails Road, and how that is used as really something more than a bypass for people who are traveling from the northern portions of Spokane to areas in Airway Heights or west of Airway Heights, like Fairchild Air Force Base,” he said.

Grimes said his group looked at the results from the previous meeting and put them into a system of screenlines to determine how traffic could look in the region for the next 10, 20 or even 40 years, if growth estimates hold up at around 2 percent per year. He said models from the Spokane Regional Transportation Council had treated the West Plains as one single region. There are around 30,000 trips per days in the West Plains.

“We needed to find a way to subdivide those effectively and understand how the characteristics on some of these major streets might need to change at a scale that’s more finely grained than what the regional transportation model will allow,” he said. “So it actually enabled us to allow a more customized level of transportation analysis on the West Plains.”

While residents noted that the Medical Lake exit along I-90 was becoming a trouble spot, Grimes said the area hadn’t reached a critical level in any of their projections relating to level of service. The state, however, has an eye on the area due to the increasing volume of traffic. Hayford Road also plays into the future of Spokane International Airport, which has envisioned a third runway on its property just south of Airway Heights.

Instead, the main deficiencies were at the Hayford Road and Highway 2 intersection.

“It just doesn’t work that great,” he said.

Results from the meeting will be used to help define policies and strategies for future West Plains roadways, setting the stage for a number of projects in the coming years.

James Eik can be reached at james@cheneyfreepress.com.

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