WA: STA Plans West Plains Service Upgrades

Feb. 10--Spokane Transit Authority has reached the first stop on its way to developing a new park-and-ride facility at the Medical Lake interchange on Interstate 90.

Transit officials are in the process of selecting an engineering firm for the job.

The facility will allow STA to provide improved connections among the three West Plains cities: Airway Heights, Medical Lake and Cheney.

Commuters into and out of Spokane could use the park-and-ride feature to save money on weekday trips. Workers in the light industrial area at the interchange would also gain better access to transit.

Karl Otterstrom, STA's planning director, said the facility is expected to reduce vehicle travel in the Spokane area by 1.1 million miles annually.

The park-and-ride could be finished by 2018 if grant funds are approved.

STA is currently using a $950,000 federal grant for the engineering work. The grant came through a funding category for reducing pollution and traffic congestion.

The agency is going to apply for a state Department of Transportation mobility program grant to pay for construction.

The estimated cost of the facility, excluding real estate, is $12 million.

A 17-acre parcel on West Westbow Lane is currently on the market and could be used for the facility, Otterstrom said.

Inbound buses from Cheney would exit at the Medical Lake off-ramp and pull into a boarding area at the 100-space parking lot on the south side of the off-ramp. The site would have room for future expansion.

A covered walkway would extend from the parking lot to the median of I-90, where a special "flyer" stop would be installed for westbound buses headed to Cheney.

Service would likely run every 15 minutes when Eastern Washington University classes are in session and 30 minutes at other times.

The Cheney route is one of the busiest in the STA system, requiring the use of 61-foot articulated buses to handle passenger loads. STA frequently runs a second bus on some trips during peak hours.

Susan Meyer, CEO for the transit authority, said the West Plains transit center will add only minimal cost to current operations, while at the same time allowing riders to avoid downtown Spokane if they want to travel between West Plains cities.

STA cuts in recent years have reduced some West Plains bus service, and the new park-and-ride will allow the agency to restore connections.

The facility could also be converted in the future to accommodate high-performance buses, which would speed travel times through increased bus frequency, prepaid and faster boarding, dedicated transit lanes, and routes tailored to neighborhood needs.

State transportation engineers recommend replacement of the existing interchange and overpass bridge to handle increased traffic, including a large number of freight haulers. The current bridge has no pedestrian walkway, which would be included in a new bridge design, making it safer for riders who want to walk to the northwest side of the freeway.

The transit center might also serve future aerospace employers being sought for open land west of Spokane International Airport.

Smoking area returns to Plaza

STA has opened its new smoking area at the Plaza on Riverside Avenue in downtown Spokane, and smokers are using it.

On Friday, about a dozen riders lighted up along the etched glass panels and square metal posts that mark the area. The panels offer a screen from the surrounding area. However, a few smokers were also on the sidewalks nearby.

STA workers and businesses have been passing out cards announcing the opening and inviting smokers to the area.

Meyer said she spoke with more than a dozen smokers and invited them to use the new smoking area.

"Downtown officially has a smoking area where it didn't before," she said.

Beth Bousley, an STA spokeswoman, said the smoking area "is a place that's especially for them."

Security officers are keeping an eye on it. The area is cleaned every two hours. During those cleanings, smokers are asked to leave the area so that the cleaning person is not exposed to smoke. STA is legally bound to provide a smoke-free work environment.

New buses coming

Eight 1997 Gillig diesel buses serving STA are going to be retired after nearly 17 years and more than 500,000 miles of service.

The standard 40-foot coaches will be replaced with eight new Gillig 40-foot diesel coaches, which are scheduled for delivery in March.

Each of the old buses has had two transmission rebuilds and one major engine overhaul to extend its life.

STA is not purchasing electric hybrids to replace them because the extra expense doesn't pencil out for savings, Meyer said. But the new buses will come with high-end exhaust cleaning systems to minimize air pollution, she said.

Bernard closure

Construction workers on a new Convention Center hotel in downtown Spokane are bringing in their big-boy crane this week.

As a result, Bernard Street from Main Avenue to Spokane Falls Boulevard will be closed to traffic today and Tuesday to set up the crane.

Copyright 2014 - The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.

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