Overpass funds approved

Post Falls City Council reverses earlier decision

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POST FALLS - The long road to the Greensferry overpass finally hit the straight stretch to funding on Tuesday night.

The Post Falls City Council unanimously agreed to extend the expiration year of the East Post Falls Urban Renewal District from 2015 to 2022, paving the way to fund the Interstate 90 overpass on Greensferry Road between the Highway 41 interchange and the westbound off ramp at Seltice Way.

The project, which has been bantered for more than a decade but hasn't advanced due to the lack of state and federal funds, will create another north-south passage across I-90 to ease congestion and improve emergency response.

"When I was elected, I vowed to represent the constituents the best way I can," council member Betty Ann Henderson said. "I have talked to so many people who have said, 'Just go ahead with this. Get it done.'"

The vote was 5-0 in favor of the district life extension. Skip Hissong didn't attend the meeting because he was ill.

The decision doesn't automatically mean the overpass will still get built, but is a big step toward it. If the council doesn't feel comfortable with how the project progresses, including if the state doesn't provide most of the maintenance costs as anticipated, the board can pass an ordinance repealing the district's extension.

The decision came despite four residents speaking in opposition during the public hearing and none in favor.

"The city of Post Falls has no business being in the bridge building business," resident Bob Flowers said. "This is a giant expense to the taxpayers. The economy is bad right now and I don't see it getting a whole lot better. We can't afford it."

Extending the urban renewal district will allow for additional tax increment to fund the overpass. The overpass is in the URD's plan that was adopted in 2002.

The project has been preliminarily estimated to cost $14 million for construction, $2 million for right of way acquisition and $1.2 million for preliminary and final engineering.

City and urban renewal officials have said construction could begin as early as 2014.

URD extension opponents said they haven't seen any firm data on whether the overpass will improve emergency response or attract commerce and there's too many unanswered questions for the project to proceed.

But council member Joe Malloy said it's the council's responsibility to improve traffic flow and provide infrastructure if it's feasible and he believes the overpass will be well-used.

"Chief (Scot) Haug will cross the bridge if it's there, school buses will cross it and ambulances and fire trucks will," he said. "It will be a benefit to everybody. I see more pros (to building the overpass than cons)."

The council earlier this year agreed to consider the proposal again after turning it down nearly two years ago, partially because it involves federal property and the lack of funding from the state and feds. The project, however, gained new momentum when citizen and business surveys indicated strong support for the project.

With urban renewal districts, incremental taxes that are paid based on the higher assessed values after development are remitted to the URA and are, in turn, paid to the proponent or developer for the cost of the infrastructure to improve the district.

* In other business, the council, on a 4-1 vote, approved a conceptual urban renewal plan to make roughly $2 million in improvements along Spokane Street from Fourth Avenue to the Spokane River bridge, including a signalized intersection, raised and landscaped medians and enhancements to the Centennial Trail crossing.

Malloy opposed the plan, saying the project is mostly for the aesthetic value and the Post Falls Landing project on the west side of Spokane is unsettled until its purchased by a developer.

The improvements are expected to begin in 2013. An open house will be held on Jan. 8.

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