Rosalia Is Thriving Again Despite Effects Of Highway Bypass

ROSALIA, Whitman County - Some rural areas don't have to kiss their business future goodbye when a highway bypass carries traffic past town.

Take Rosalia, for example. Twenty years ago, a U.S. 195 bypass took hundreds of trucks and cars off Main Street in this town, 25 miles south of Spokane.

In the 1980s, retail business was down by almost half. A car dealership left for Cheney, Spokane County. A hamburger drive-in turned off its grill, and the motel, a restaurant, two hardware stores and a service station also closed.

But by 1990, the trend began to reverse itself. People who worked in Spokane were attracted to small-town living and a relatively brief commute. The highway improvements that included the bypass also brought a four-lane road that made the trip to Spokane easier.

Other newcomers were trading an urban existence for a chance to run small businesses. Suddenly, almost all the houses are full again.

An Everett developer has purchased 300 acres for a planned community. The school district is getting 10 to 15 new students each year.

Now, Rosalia residents are starting to worry about growth.

"We've always realized we were close to Spokane and had the potential of being a bedroom community," said Mayor Ken Jacobs, also a farmer.

Rosalia's recovery is one of several cited in a new Washington State University analysis suggesting a state highway bypass doesn't have to sound the small-town death knell. Other towns in the study - Omak, Okanogan, Prosser and Sunnyside - all have managed to prosper.

"Bypasses open up opportunities at the same time they reduce opportunities for certain kinds of business," said Bill Gillis, an economist for the Gillis Group in Ritzville.

Now is the time for new and longtime residents of the towns to decide how they want their communities to grow, he said.

"It's kind of `Be careful what you wish for because you might just get it,' " Gillis said.