City pitches road map for Transportation Improvement Plan
By Craig Howard
As the city of Liberty Lake ponders strategies to repair and maintain its roads, new avenues are emerging to address the lingering question of how to fund such improvements.
At Tuesday night's City Council meeting, City Administrator Katy Allen provided the governing board with an overview of one potential revenue source – the state Transportation Improvement Board. Since incorporating in 2001, the city has not drawn on TIB funds other than an ambitious pedestrian bridge project spanning Interstate 90.
Allen said TIB traditionally supports work that focuses on "preservation and sidewalks" and noted that "many other area cities, including Medical Lake, Deer Park, Cheney and Tekoa are getting TIB dollars." TIB coffers receive 3 cents from each portion of the statewide gas tax.
"The TIB has a goal of moving projects forward," Allen said. "You're only competing against other cities in your area of similar size for these funds, not big cities on the west side of the state."
Allen advised council that the city would need to craft a Transportation Improvement Plan in order to qualify for TIB benefits. She then proposed a goal of presenting such a document – comprised of a blend of the existing Capital Facilities Plan and the Street Maintenance Program introduced last month – at the June 4 council meeting. The city needs to submit a plan by July 1 to qualify for the next round of TIB funds.
The topic of drawing upon the TIB followed another infrastructure discussion on May 7, this one involving stormwater drainage throughout the city. During the portion of the meeting set aside for citizen comments, Dennis Scott, a former employee of the Spokane County Public Works department, complimented the city on its proactive approach to road preservation, but counseled on a more assertive policy regarding the maintenance of stormwater swales.
Allen concurred, saying the city needs to place a priority on "getting water where it was designed to go." In some areas, grass has grown above the roadway, hindering optimum drainage when the rain falls. Allen said the city receives between $45,000 to $50,000 in a dedicated fund for stormwater maintenance and recently completed a project at the corner of Molter and Appleway.
"We have the staff and the dollars to make sure our stormwater swales are maintained," Allen said.
Allen added that some streets within city limits were constructed in the 1970s when stormwater swales were not required. While the city is responsible for overseeing swales along arterial roads, an array of homeowner associations are accountable for the maintenance of such infrastructure on many residential streets. Allen said she is planning to talk to representatives of the city's homeowners associations about the issue.
"They've always been really good about addressing maintenance," she said.
While streets and stormwater took centerstage on Tuesday night, the topic of parking – specifically in the area around a busy bus stop – also took up a good share of the conversation.
Allen said she has been talking with Karl Otterstrom, planning director for the Spokane Transit Authority, about the expansion of parking facilities at the bustling Park and Ride at the corner of Mission Avenue and Meadowwood Lane. The site is at capacity now, Allen said, and STA has brought up the possibility of building earlier than anticipated. The city is also awaiting word on a state grant that would provide matching dollars for improvements in the area that has long been discussed as the site for a town square.
"It will probably be June before we know about that grant," Allen said.
Mayor Pro Tem Odin Langford emphasized that the city should have an understanding of STA's commitment to the project, especially since the work is not included in the agency's current budget. There has also been discussion of constructing another facility on the north side of town off Mission, west of Harvard at some point in the future.
"We need to know where STA stands before the city moves forward," Langford said.
In other city news:
• Finance Director R.J. Stevenson provided a report on municipal salaries and benefits as part of an ongoing series on the city's financial picture. Stevenson said the presentations – which have included reports on revenue sources like sales tax and property tax – are meant to be "the building blocks of the overall financial forecast that will help us build upon the 2014 budget."
• Allen said discussions continue about plans for the Liberty Lake Ball Fields with the general concept now completed and building strategy and a construction schedule still in the works. Allen said the city could address "part of the parking and two fields" at a cost of $1 million. The city has set aside $500,000 for the project this year. Council Member Josh Beckett recommended that an update on the fields be included on the May 21 City Council agenda.
• Council authorized Mayor Steve Peterson to sign a contract with a company called CivicPlus for the creation of a new city website.
• Allen issued a reminder about the municipal open house scheduled for Thursday, May 16, from 5 to 8 p.m. at City Hall. She said the event would be "an opportunity to talk to citizens, answer questions and let them know what's going on in the city."
• The May 21 City Council meeting will include a presentation by the Liberty Lake Library Board of Trustees, a resolution regarding the city's wellness program and the second reading of Ordinance 204-B, a budget amendment that would provide funding for street upgrades on Mission and Valleyway.
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