By Tim Leeds
Some members of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce went to a meeting Monday with questions about the reconstruction of First Street - and they got some answers.
"What our intention is is to keep these committees as involved as we can," said Mick Johnson, Great Falls district administrator for the Montana Department of Transportation.
Ron Brenna of Havre Laundry and Janine Donoven of J.M. Donoven Designs in Fine Jewelry, as well as Havre Mayor Bob Rice and city public works director Dave Peterson, attended MDT's quarterly meeting in Havre.
Following that meeting, the group was joined by Brad Peterson and John Pavsek of Morrison Maierle Inc., the consultant planning the First Street reconstruction project set to being in 2007.
Brenna heads a Chamber committee trying to find out what Havre businesses and residents want for the construction aspect of the project. Donoven heads a committee looking into beautification of the street during the project.
They had a list of questions based on a survey they did of city residents' expectations of the project.
One of the questions was how much impact the work of the committees will have on project planning. Johnson said the Chamber's work is crucial, because MDT can't make the best plans without knowing what people want. Keeping residents and businesses informed about dates and planned construction is also crucial, he said.
One thing business people can do to minimize the impact is to plan for when construction will be in front of their businesses, he said. If vacations, remodeling or construction, or reduced operations can be planned around street construction, it could reduce the impacts, Johnson said.
"We're not going to tell you we're not going to impact you," he said.
Pavsek told the Chamber committee chairs that the work they are doing, such as giving Morrison Maierle the survey results, is exactly the help the firm needs to plan the project.
"This is more than we normally get," he said.
And the results will figure into the planning, he added.
"We don't just blow that off and do our own thing," Pavsek said.
Peterson said the desires of the community will affect the plans his company recommends to MDT. Its initial recommendation, based on the traffic, accident and parking survey it recently submitted to MDT for review, was for a five-lane configuration with reduced parking on one side of the street, he said.
But that was primarily based on safety, he said, and the recommendation was not extremely strong.
"You have to factor in a lot of other things than the traffic study," he said.
The survey results, of the 175 returned by the March 7 deadline, had 87 responses in favor of keeping the current configuration of four lanes in downtown Havre, with five lanes on the east and west ends.
A total of 37 responses supported five lanes with reduced parking, and 30 responses favored five lanes with narrower lanes and narrower parking spots on both sides of the street.
The main concern business owners have about configuration is parking, Brenna said. First Street business owners have said they fear that losing parking will shut down their businesses, he said.
Pavsek said the initial study showed that there is plenty of parking. Other than the north side of First Street during the busiest time of the day, there is usually parking available, he said.
The north side of First between Third and Fourth avenues fills to capacity and the south side averages 70 percent to 80 percent of capacity during the busiest time, but the rest of First Street and the avenues intersecting it only average about 40 percent full during the day.
But business needs and desires will be factored in, he added.
"We want to be very careful here," Pavsek said. "We recognize that parking is very important to the business community."
Johnson directed Pavsek and Peterson to make keeping the current configuration the top priority in their planning, if possible.
The surveys showed about a 2-to-1 margin in favor of a two-season construction period instead of a one-season period. But Johnson said that might be misleading.
Havre people have told him they want some traffic lanes kept open during construction, Johnson said. The length of the construction season seems to be secondary to that, he said.
Donoven asked how beautification would be funded. Many respondents said they prefer period lighting.
Giard said any cost above the amount budgeted for standard lighting would have to be paid by the city or the Chamber, but that many period lighting fixtures are available that don't cost any more than standard lighting.