By Lee Hughes
Staff Reporter 

Public meeting illuminates area road projects

State, county and PDA reps discuss project status and growth

 

February 7, 2019

About 60 people braved a dark, wet Friday evening at Snowden Elementary School to ask questions, share concerns, and receive an update on planned summer roadwork on and near the Medical Lake interchange on Interstate 90.

Sponsored by a local homeowners association, the meeting included representatives from the Washington State Department of Transportation, Spokane County, and the West Plains Public Development Authority, who are either leading the design and construction of work on or near the interchange, or development efforts on the West Plains.

WSDOT engineer Mark Allen began the meeting by walking the audience, slide by slide, through elements of the interchange that will feature three, two-lane roundabouts designed to handle large commercial vehicles including semitrailers.

The interchange project was already planned due to increased development on the West Plains, but the sudden arrival of Amazon’s 2.6 million square foot fulfillment center on nearby Geiger Boulevard changed things.

“This interchange would look different without Amazon,” Allen said, noting that the Medical Lake and Geiger interchanges were originally scheduled for construction in 2020 as a single project.

However, WSDOT decided to split the project in half due to Amazon, and accelerate the Medical Lake interchange construction schedule a full year. Much of the original design was modified to accommodate the volume and type of Amazon-generated traffic, including as many as 6,000 additional vehicles and upwards of 350 larger semitrailers and other delivery vehicles that will suddenly appear this fall when the Amazon facility opens for business.


One concern expressed by the audience was pedestrian access across the interchange and through the roundabouts. Allen explained that pedestrian safety was a design consideration that led to an 11-foot-wide shared-use path being shifted to the west side of the interchange to reduce pedestrian-truck encounters.

Other audience members were concerned about the roundabouts.

Allen replied that roundabouts have many positive attributes, including reduced severity of accidents due to the slow nature of the intersections. He noted that roundabouts can be intimidating at first, but motorists generally come to appreciate them once they get familiar with their use.

A second, two-lane structure bridging I-90 will also be constructed to the west of the existing overpass, but may not be completed by fall due to the shallow water table and other issues, according to Allen. If not, the existing bridge will continue to handle two-way traffic until the new structure is completed.


Interchange construction is expected to begin sometime in June, according to Allen. Roundabout intersections are expected to be completed by fall, in time to accommodate the sudden influx of Amazon traffic.

Asked about stormwater drainage, a perennial concern in the area, Allen responded that the interchange had been designed to channel stormwater to the north into a naturally occurring swale that would move runoff in the direction of the Spokane International Airport.

Meanwhile, two other Spokane County projects will be occur concurrent with interchange reconstruction.

Geiger Boulevard will be widened to three lanes between Soda Road and State Route 902, and a signalized intersection will be installed at Hayford Road and Geiger Boulevard. That project is expected to begin in May or June, according to engineering consultant Steve Nelson of Century West Engineering. Amazon will be making much of those improvements as part of its construction permit, county officials had said previously.

The remainder of Geiger Boulevard will be widened in 2020 in conjunction with WSDOT’s Geiger interchange project.

A second county project will install a fourth roundabout at the intersection of Westbow Road and Aero Road on the Medical Lake interchanges south side.

Truck traffic will be detoured south to Thomas-Mallen Road and West Hallet Road when necessary during some phases of the roundabout construction, Nelson said. There may also be closures of the entire intersection for up to two hours. Construction of the $1.1 million project is expected to begin as early as April, and be completed in 3-4 months, according to Nelson.

Traffic at the Medical Lake interchange is expected to grow, driven by not only Amazon, but ongoing housing and commercial development on the West Plains. Traffic is expected to increase anywhere from 130 to 190 percent during peak travel hours, according to Nelson.

To counter expected growth, a future interchange between the Medical Lake and Geiger interchanges is a possibility, according to Allen, including potentially exclusive access to and from the freeway for Amazon.

A metered eastbound I-90 on-ramp is also a strong possibility “someday in the future,” Allen said.

“Land use is competing with infrastructure,” Allen said. “We have to work with our partners in the county to steer land use.”

Several in the audience expressed concerns about development, its impact to property values, schools, and traffic in general and its effect on the as-yet to be constructed interchange.

Todd Coleman, executive director of the West Plains Airport Area Public Development Authority, noted that schools are in part funded by property taxes — as development increases, so does the amount available for schools.

As far as traffic, Allen admitted that development might cause the as-yet constructed interchange to eventually fail.

Allen is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at Re*Imagine Medical Lake’s general meeting, Thursday, Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Medical Lake High School auditorium, 200 E. Barker St., Medical Lake. Contact Re*Imagine Medical Lake at info@medicallake.org for more information.

Another public open house is planned by WSDOT for sometime in May once a contractor has been selected, Allen said.

Lee Hughes can be reached at lee@cheneyfreepress.com

 

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