WSDOT Buying Homes In N-S Freeway Path

SPOKANE — Dozens of people in east Spokane have left their homes, which are now in the hands of the Washington State Department of Transportation to make way for the North-South Freeway project.

More than 50 homes on either side of Interstate 90 from Hamilton to just past Freya are now vacant, and empty homes visible from the freeway are creating a lengthy list of problems.

WSDOT boarded up the homes, preparing them to be demolished because the area will be part of the interchange between the North Spokane Freeway and I-90.

One may expect disgruntled property owners in the area, but the opposite has been true.

“You put in a lot of years and work hard on the place,” says former homeowner Wes Johnson. “It was a shack when we bought it.”

Johnson has lived here for 30 years, and now he is moving.

“We got a better home,” he says.

Johnson’s home is one of dozens purchased by the Department of Transportation. Even though Johnson has called his house home for three decades, he is not upset he has to leave.

“I always said the freeway didn’t bother me,” says Johnson. “I didn’t even hear it most of the time. But this year, it has been worse than ever and it’s so quiet where we live that it’s really very neat.”

To make way for the interchange, most of the homes along E. 2nd Avenue are vacant, but not all of them had owners like Johnson.

“I can tell you stories about the drug dealers,” he says.

Since they’ve been empty, the crime hasn’t stopped.

“We have vandalism, we have some homes where the homeless have broken in and lived there until we found them,” says Melinda Ziemann with WSDOT.

The list of problems the WSDOT is dealing with as a result of owning 50-plus empty homes is lengthy.

“Breaking in, so we have broken doors,” Ziemann says, “broken windows, graffiti, broken interior doors and staining on the carpets and floors.”

But the list of ways they are fighting the problems is lengthy, too.

“We have a resource officer that been assigned to us by the city of Spokane,” says Ziemann. “He works very closely with us. Anytime I need anything, whether its a sweep of a home that has been vandalized, he is right there.”

And Johnson says so far WSDOT is doing a good job.

“There were more problems when they had renters in them,” he says.

Many people that live in the neighborhood and none of them had any complaints about what the Department of Transportation is doing. Many of them said when they notice vandalism at any of the empty homes, they call WSDOT and they are quick to respond.

The WSDOT has plans to buy nearly 500 properties to make way for the North Spokane Corridor, but as far as the homes are concerned, officials say they expect to have them demolished within the next few months.