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Spokane Valley OKs $250 million transportation program; half ‘Unfunded’

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(The Center Square) – Spokane Valley officials approved a Six-Year Transportation Improvement Program during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, providing around $250 million in funding for various projects.

State law requires the Valley to adopt the program annually with new amendments to meet its evolving transportation needs. While many projects include state and federal funding, many also require a local match, with some lacking grant-backed financing altogether.

Typically, that local match, when required, ranges from 10% to 20%, which usually comes from the Valley’s Real Estate Excise Tax, or REET, revenue. According to a Request for Council Action, city staff regularly reviews the fund’s balance to gauge whether there is enough to satisfy the TIP’s commitments.

“We try to find what could have the most efficient impact to the traveling public at the most efficient use of funds and that can leverage the most grant dollars,” said Adam Jackson, a utility engineering manager with the Valley. “It’s kind of a hodgepodge of any and all planning efforts to identify projects that can be a priority, that need to be a priority, and can be successful.”

However, despite not being included in Tuesday’s paperwork, the TIP also pulls funding from other pools, including the Valley’s Street Fund. Notably, it allows the city council to appropriate any additional funding outside the sources provided in the city code as deemed necessary.

Additionally, according to the Spokane Valley Municipal Code, officials can divert any remaining funds from a street project toward another one of the city’s capital projects.

The Valley also finances the TIP through its Fund 311, which diverts money from the general fund comprised of revenue collected through gambling taxes, business registrations and other tax dollars; ultimately, rerouting the funds allows the officials to move the money as they wish.

This year’s TIP includes eight projects that the Valley intends to close out in 2025 and 31 others it will carry out through 2030. These include projects concerning bridge and grade separation, intersection improvements, reconstruction/preservation and other projects.

The only dissenting vote regarding the TIP on Tuesday was from Councilmember Al Merkel, an outspoken opponent of some of the projects. He most notably challenged the Sprague Road diet, which reduces a five-lane road to three despite concerns over pedestrian safety.

Jackson said state and federal funding did not dictate which projects were included but noted grants are a factor in delivery. Instead, the Valley emphasizes safety concerns, traffic compliance and the wants and needs of residents.

Merkel noted some discrepancies between what’s budgeted through the program on paper and the actual costs, prompting Jackson to clarify that the funding listed for the eight projects to close out in 2025 only reflects placeholder values.

While the program’s overall cost totals $244.5 million across each source of funding, the 39 projects could cost taxpayers more or less depending on the remaining balance. That amount could then increase again with the possibility of future phases tacking onto next year’s TIP or later on.

“There are close-out projects, and the important part is to keep the project title in the adopted document so that on the project side with documentation, we can close out projects, finalize them, finish the paperwork and process that,” Jackson said. “In the system, I run a [small percentage] of the project’s totals, and it’s just there as a placeholder … I could just as well put in $1 or $1000, but I just run it at a percentage.”

According to documents outlining each initiative in the TIP, approximately $146 million in projects through 2030 were listed as “Unfunded” as of Tuesday’s approval.

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