SPOKANE, Wash. — Imagine getting from Wandemere to I-90 in 12 minutes.
That's the promise of the North/South Freeway, an idea first conceived in the 1940s, a project that broke ground in 2001 and a corridor that, to this day, is still not finished.
It's a fact that's become a popular punchline for Spokane memes.
"You know, I like to reference it as a mythical unicorn, but it's going to come to fruition," WSDOT Communications Manager Ryan Overton said. "We're going to see the fruits of the labor and it finally connects to I-90."
Overton says the freeway should be finished by 2028. That's the latest estimate, at least. He says there's a reason it's taken decades.
"The simple answer of why it has taken so long is funding has been sprinkled out through so many years," Overton said. "So since 2001, there has been so much money allocated which is why it wasn't done all at once, the funding wasn't all available right in 2001."
But now, funding for the entire $1.5 billion project has been secured and crews are making progress.
Residents may have noticed them building the latest stretch next to Spokane Community College. This will eventually connect to the North and South.
"It will be every project under contract or under construction in the next 12-18 months, so it will be very visible and this will be getting done," Overton said.
The freeway crosses the Spokane River and snakes through several neighborhoods. WSDOT had to purchase roughly 600 parcels to clear the way for the 10.5-mile freeway.
"We work with the homeowners very closely, not only to purchase the property but to help with relocation," Overton said.
It's why the state owns the lot people at the I-90 homeless encampment are living on. That is where the freeway will eventually connect to I-90. WSDOT still has about 35 more properties to buy, mainly to the south of Spokane Community College. Once the corridor is complete, any leftover land that the state has can go back to the neighborhoods.
"Restoring and reconnecting places like the East Central neighborhood," Overton said. "There's going to be some design work and funding for a land bridge."
Once finished, the freeway will change how Spokane's growing population travels north and south.
"It's a huge difference," Overton said. "You've got 27 lights on Division, takes anywhere from about 35-40 minutes. It's a lot of truck traffic, and all of that will be diverted onto the North Spokane corridor, free-flowing. Reduces emissions, travel times."
The six-lane, 60-mile-per-hour freeway will also provide faster, easier access to neighborhoods along the way.
"It opens up new opportunities and economic opportunities for places like Hillyard," Overton said. "You know, people are going to be more readily available to access the Hillyard neighborhood so we'll likely see growth in that area."
Spokane is already seeing that growth across the entire region. More cars and semis squeezing onto arterials, which weren't designed to handle that much traffic. It's why the state is committed to finishing the North/South Freeway within the next few years.
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