A bill that offers a way to reconnect communities in Spokane split by Interstate 90 and the US 395 North Spokane Corridor was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday.

Senate Bill 5853, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, allows the Washington State Department of Transportation to more efficiently lease surplus property for things such as parks, affordable housing and other projects that improve the overall quality of life in communities long ago divided by the two freeways.

The construction of I-90 more than 60 years ago split Spokane’s East Central neighborhood, moving schools, homes and businesses in the process. Billig believes his bill is the first step toward mitigating some of the damage done by returning land back to the community that first lost it generations ago.

“We can’t turnback the clock and undo the decision to fracture the East Central neighborhood, but this first step can help continue the good work being done right now in our community,” Billig said. “This is an important step back toward a healthy, connected and thriving neighborhood. The East Central neighborhood is a beautiful place with so many positive things happening, this keeps that momentum going.

“The community will continue to lead this process. I’m so grateful that I can do something on my end to help aid in those efforts.”

WSDOT has identified surplus land that is no longer needed for future highway development. Under this bill, things such as parks, trails, public plazas, badly needed affordable housing projects and more.

More than 100 members of the Spokane community testified in favor of the bill when it had its public hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee on Jan. 27. Billig said that level of participation speaks to both the need and enthusiasm for the bill.

“I’m hopeful this approach can serve as a model across Washington,” Billig said. “Communities across our state have stories similar to those of the East Central neighborhood. This approach can serve as a modest step to help undo historical wrongs and address a tremendous need in terms of housing, parks and other public spaces.”

SB 5853 will go into effect on June 9. The 2022 legislative session adjourned on Thursday.