Local delegation blasts Inslee’s proposed transportation budget that includes North Spokane Corridor pause as ‘almost unconscionable’

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed transportation budget could pause construction on the North Spokane Corridor, pushing the completion date back another six years.

But Spokane’s legislative delegation, including Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, are against the proposal, saying it would cost taxpayers “significantly more money in the long run.”

“Simply put, this decision does not have our support, nor does it have the support of people across Spokane and Eastern Washington who for years have been waiting for the completion of this vital project,” a joint statement from Billig and Spokane Democratic Reps. Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli read.

Inslee’s 16-year spending proposal would pause funding for the project for the next four years, pushing its completion back to 2035.

Planners had previously assumed an estimated completion date of between 2027-29.

Each year, Inslee submits budget proposals to the Legislature, which uses it as a recommendation for crafting its own budget. It’s unlikely Inslee’s budget will be adopted outright.

Inslee’s office pointed to the last two transportation packages passed by the Legislature, which provide funding for projects over the next 16 years.

“With so many projects, the governor’s proposed budget prioritizes based on criteria including existing contracts, legal obligations, and interstate projects,” Jim Kopriva, spokesman for the governor, wrote in an email. “These two transportation packages will deliver hundreds of projects and serve every corner of Washington over the next two decades.”

Kopriva said the governor is eager to work with legislators on their own transportation funding proposals.

“The governor is open to conversation,” he wrote. “The proposed budget is just that – proposed.”

In an interview with The Spokesman Review, Riccelli called the pause “a political miscalculation” that he does not think will not end up in the Legislature’s final budget.

Workforce shortages and supply chain issues may continue to cause delays in the project, and Riccelli said he’s realistic enough to acknowledge that.

“But the answer is not zero,” he said. “Not on my watch.”

In recent years, Spokane’s legislators have pushed accelerating construction of the project, which has been in the works for decades. When finished, it would give travelers another north-south route through the city, remove major freight off Division Street and create a much more efficient way to travel through the area.

“We will not support any proposal that pauses a safer, quicker, and less congested north-south route that connects to I-90,” Spokane’s Democratic lawmakers said in a statement. “It simply does not make sense to halt a project that will not only pay for itself in economic impact, but also benefit our state with significantly reduced travel time and emissions.”

The project broke ground in 2001, but has been slow to finish.

“It’s almost unconscionable that the governor would offer that after everything we’ve been through,” Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, told The Spokesman-Review.

He called delaying the project “a nonstarter.”

Upon completion of the North Spokane Corridor, the city also plans to install a rapid bus transit line along Division Street to allow for a more public-transit-focused corridor. The Legislature funded the line in its last transportation package.

If the corridor construction is paused, the bus line will also likely be paused because the two projects work in tandem, Riccelli told The Spokesman-Review.

Sen. Jeff Holy, R-Spokane, said the project is crucial for the whole region.

“We need to make sure that continues,” he said.

The Legislature started its 105-day session on Monday during which lawmakers will write budgets for the next two years.