By Thursday, the completed portion of the North Spokane Corridor was all north of Spokane. Now, for the first time since the north-south highway was first envisioned more than 70 years ago, there is an open section for driving within the city limits.
The Wellesley Avenue interchange opened on Thursday, connecting about 1.5 miles of motorway to the Freya Street interchange to the north, although the southbound lanes on the newly opened section are not expected to open to the public until the weekend.
City, state and regional officials huddled on a chilly Thursday afternoon under an overpass adorned with a stamped concrete steam engine commemorating the railroads that once defined the region. Hundreds of Washington State Department of Transportation employees and members of the public gathered to celebrate the milestone years, and “Sir Plows-A-Lot,” one of WSDOT’s trailing plows as the community has named it, was on display to celebrated the handover of the highway from construction workers to maintenance workers.
After the dignitaries delivered their remarks and following the mandatory lane cutting, the barriers were removed to the northbound lanes leading from the Wellesley interchange and cars proceeded to the first drive-through section of the North Spokane Corridor completed in more than a decade.
For the better part of a century, the highway was envisioned as a superior north-south route through Spokane, relieving nearby Division Street of heavy freight traffic and creating better opportunities for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit along this city street.
The North Spokane Corridor first began in 2001, and by 2012, about 5.5 miles of the corridor north of the Freya Fork was completed and passable. Further construction stalled until the rest of the corridor was funded under the 2015 Connecting Washington transportation package, and work to complete the corridor south all the way to Interstate 90 began in 2018.
The first major section of the southern half of the freeway was completed by 2019, extending from the Freya interchange south to Columbia Avenue. However, motorists were unable to access that section until it connected to the Wellesley Avenue interchange on Thursday.
The completion of the phase is seen by some in the Hillyard neighborhood as an opportunity to continue reimagining the area, including improvements to the area east of Market Street known to longtime residents as “Dogtown.”
Crews continue to work on completing a section of the freeway south of Wellesley to the Spokane River, which, although originally scheduled for completion this year, has been delayed in part due to supply chain issues, according to WSDOT East Region spokesman Ryan Overton. However, the next new passable stretch of freeway won’t open until the completed sections go all the way south to a partial interchange planned at Trent Avenue, which isn’t expected to happen until 2028.
Work is underway to cross the river to Spokane Community College, with the bridge expected to be completed by the end of 2025.
The beginning for the North Spokane Corridor will be long. Although the latest phase does little to achieve the goal of the north-south freeway running north or south, work to build extensive connections to a nearly 3-mile stretch of I-90 won’t be completed until at least 2030.
All told, the North Spokane corridor is valued at $1.66 billion, the majority of which – $1.05 billion – was distributed in 2015 through the Connecting Washington funding package.