By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Rita Campbell looked out the window of Super Ice Cream onto the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Second Street and nodded her head.
"There needs to be a stop sign," Campbell said.
Since she began working at the restaurant in 2002, Campbell said, she has seen several accidents from the window. In fact, the year she began a traffic safety study recommended stop signs for the interesection, but no signs have gone up. In the nearly two years since, there have been five accidents at that location.
In 2001, Havre and Hill County were jointly one of the first locations chosen by the Montana Department of Transportation for traffic safety studies funded by a federal grant. Since the report came out in 2002, a fraction of the changes recommended in the study have been made.
Meanwhile, the Havre Police Department and the Havre City Council's Streets and Sidewalks Committee are reviewing two separate requests for stop signs, neither of which was recommended by the study.
"You can watch them slow down on this side because they can't see past our building," Campbell said. She pointed to Seventh Avenue where it approaches Second Street.
"But see there! He's going right through. See! How fast is he going? At least 25 mph," she said.
That intersection, along with 11 other areas, were chosen for the study because they were considered dangerous.
"We put in requests of areas that we felt were safety concerns," Havre public works director Dave Peterson said about locations chosen for the study. The requests came from the Police Department, the Public Works Department and Hill County, he said.
Of the 12 locations, only three were immediately altered.
"It's going to take someone getting killed or hurt" to get a stop sign in here, Campbell said. Her greatest concern, she said, is for the children in the area. Two school buses stop near the intersection, and children walk to two different neighboring schools, Lincoln-McKinley Primary and St. Jude Thaddeus School.
"The kids bring their sleds and slide right into the streets here," she said, pointing to an area where snow plows leave a pile of snow in the back of the Albertsons parking lot.
These facts do not appear in the study, nor does it suggest priorities among the locations.
The study included two county roads, two state roads, and eight city streets. When the state makes its road improvements, it will follow all the study's recommendations, but there is no way to guarantee that the local jurisdictions prioritize the repairs for their streets, Traffic Safety Management Bureau engineer Pierre Jomini said.
MDT was able to see that a few changes were made on local roads.
"The agreement between the city of Havre, Hill County, and Department of Transportation said that if there are simple safety improvements, that we do it with our maintenance," Jomini said.
The study was completed with 90 percent federal money and 10 percent state money. Roughly $25,000 went into the study, said MDT district director Mick Johnson of Great Falls. From that budget, spare money was used for those immediate changes.
Stop signs were added at the intersections of Eighth Street and 12th Avenue, and 11th Street and Seventh Avenue, and a barricade with chevron arrows was added at the T-intersection at 16th Avenue West and Second Street West.
Between January 1996 and December 2002, there were 17 accidents at the intersection of Eighth Street and 12th Avenue. In the nearly 20 months since the stop signs went in, there have been no accidents at that intersection. This is compared with an average of two accidents a year before the stop signs were installed including a total of five accidents in 2000, according to MDT.
"You don't want to always put stop signs in; it might hinder or create traffic problems too," Peterson said. "In residential areas you want to allow traffic to go through. Requests are taken case by case."
Not all of the recommendations made by the study involved stop signs. The Police Department is looking into a request for a four-way stop at a location where the study did not recommend one, at Second Avenue and Second Street, Police Chief Mike Barthel said.
The traffic safety study reported 11 accidents at that intersection over the course of four years. The intersections and stretches of road on Second Street from Second to Seventh avenues were all studied, and the recommendation was for an improvement to the entire stretch of road. It said that changing the angle of parking on Second Street from 45 degrees to 30 degrees would widen the driving lanes and increase visibility.
This recommendation was a compromise from a preferred recommendation of using parallel parking, rather than angled parking, on one side of the street, the report said.
Neither of those changes have happened, though a few parking spots have been removed near corners and alleys to improve visibility, Peterson said.
Jomini said ideally the study would continue to be used as a reference whenever changes are proposed for streets and roads in the study. The state plans to make all of the changes the study proposed for First Street during the reconstruction of U.S. 2 in 2006, and make some alterations to signal timing on Fifth Avenue in 2005.
The study's suggested changes for First Street include adjusting signal timing, adding turning lanes, and restriping, Johnson said. Some of the striping work will actually happen ahead of the 2006 project and will reappear after the road is changed, he said. First Street, from First to Seventh avenues was the location of the highest number of accidents in the study.
Had there been a spot along First Street that seemed especially dangerous, it would have been addressed immediately, Jomini said.
While the state has plans to address all of the areas of the study that fall under its jurisdiction, this is not true for local roads.
Changes to city streets can happen in a number of different ways. If the police or city officials suspect that there is a problem location, or if the city is planning repairs, it can ask MDT to come and do a small-scale study of that location. If MDT found a major problem, it would pay for changes to the road itself, Jomini said.
In some cases, the city will not ask for a study, or will ask for only a limited traffic flow study, as in the case of the city's decision to add a stop sign at Second Avenue and Sixth Street this year.
Streets and Sidewalks Committee chair Allen "Woody" Woodwick said that decision was made in a "knee-jerk" fashion. "There were some bad wrecks and we put the signs up and then said we need to OK these."
Woodwick said he has not seen the traffic safety study, but he knows about it. The committee relies on the Public Works Department to help it set priorities, he said.
Monday, when the committee meets to discuss a petition for stop signs at Fourth Avenue and Fourth Street, Peterson will be the one the committee turns to for advice, Woodwick said. That intersection was not part of the state's study.
Peterson said there is no rule of thumb, or certain number of accidents that mean a stop sign will go up.
In addition to requests from police, residents can petition either the city's Streets and Sidewalks Committee or the Havre Police Department with a request for a stop sign, or for a study.
Until someone approaches Public Works with a request, it will not act, Peterson said.
For Seventh Avenue and Second Street, Campbell will continue to have some scares.
"We watch them all the time. We're like, ugh!" Campbell said as she sucked in a deep breath and then paused a moment. "Oh! They made it," she said, imitating a close call, one of many she and her co-workers have witnessed out their window.