Summers in Spokane are often a busy time for construction projects, and although this summer looks drastically different because of COVID-19 restrictions, the work must go on. Returning students may remember the newly reconstructed Sharp Avenue that was unveiled late last fall.
This year the construction sites spread farther out into parts of downtown Spokane, in a move to create safer flows of traffic in and around campus as well as throughout much of downtown.
Karin Janssen, the Spokane City Council’s construction relations manager, explained the bulk of the construction occurring near campus will be centered around the Hamilton corridor, and is designed to help both pedestrians and drivers have safer traffic experiences.
The Hamilton corridor work began just over a month ago and is projected to be completed in October (subject to change because of COVID-19 restrictions).
“Six intersections will receive new signals with protected left turns: DeSmet, Sharp, Mission, Indiana, Illinois and North Foothills,” Janssen said via email.
Like with many aspects of life right now, the Spokane City Council had a projected end date for the construction near the beginning of the school year, in order to minimize inconveniences for students and parents driving to and from campus. However, much of the timeline had to be altered in order to comply with state mandated COVID-19 restrictions.
The sites on Mission and DeSmet were set out to be done by August, and other constructions sites were initially planned to be completed by late in the fall.
“Unfortunately, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into things. LaRiviere (the construction company hired by the city council) is making every attempt to get through on time, but the northern section of the project may be delayed into next spring,” Janssen said.
In addition to the efforts being made to create a smoother and safer flow of traffic, the Spokane City Council has also begun construction on a new busing system.
This new rapid bus system is not expected to be up and running until May of 2022, but operations have already begun in hopes of getting ahead of the curve and preventing any setbacks that may arise from COVID-19 restrictions.
Brandon Rapez-Betty, the communication and customer service director with Spokane Transit, spoke about the two-part phased plan for getting the system set up and functional on time.
“There is a two-season construction cycle in 2020 and 2021 to construct all 21 stations, after which service testing will begin (testing how the buses operate along the route and at the stations) to be ready for the spring opening in the following year,” Rapez-Betty said via email.
In terms of how this construction will directly impact students living in Spokane this fall, whether on or off campus, they can expect heavier traffic and some road closures until the construction is finalized.
“Gonzaga will be impacted by the closure of the West half of DeSmet…work here will last a month,” Demi Sanders, a representative for LaRiviere construction said via email. “Two other projects, the Cincinnati Greenway Project (NNAC is the contractor), and the STA project (with Cameron Reilly the contractor) in the Sharp and Mission intersections of Cincinnati are also greatly impacting the Gonzaga area.”
Sustainability is an issue many students and staff at GU are passionate about, and the new traffic signals going up around campus will help decrease air pollution and carbon emissions.
“The addition of traffic control/flow measures should reduce the amount of traffic that stacks up at these intersections, thus reducing congestion, carbon emissions, fuel waste and frustration,” Janssen said.
The city’s decision to implement a more efficient and widespread busing system within the next few years will also help decrease fossil fuel emissions in and around campus. Not only will the new rapid bus system help reduce CO2 emissions, it will also help accommodate students who wish to explore downtown Spokane but do not have cars with them at school.
Students arriving back on campus in August should anticipate some level of road closure and commotion, but should rest assured that the City Council and everyone working on the construction is doing everything they can to make the move back to GU as quick and painless as possible.