By Tim Leeds
Havre business owners and community leaders met with the Montana Department of Transportation Monday to start figuring out what to do with First Street a few years down the road.
"We still don't know what they're going to do. They are looking for input and that's what they got," said Frank DeRosa, head of Havre Beneath the Streets and the Railroad Museum in downtown Havre.
The purpose of Monday's meeting was to start organizing the community to decide what form the construction on First Street should take, "what is the collective vision for the configuration of the streets," said Debbie Vandeberg, executive director of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce.
Most of First Street was built in 1952, and has not had any major work since 1979. An extremely high rate of accidents on the street indicates some reconfiguration as well as reconstruction is needed, MDT said. The project is in the planning stages, with construction scheduled to begin in 2006.
The planning stage will last about a year, before the actual designing of the project begins, Vandeberg said.
Ron Wolford and Ron Brenna are co-chairing a committee to study what form the rebuilt street should take. It could be anywhere from two to five lanes wide, Vandeberg said, with turning lanes the length of the project or turning lanes partway down a block. How much on-street parking will be available will be part of the study, depending on the configuration of the street.
One question DeRosa has is how the sidewalks on the avenues will be affected. He said the nonprofit organization that runs Havre Beneath the Streets and the Railroad Museum is trying to get money to improve the sidewalks on Second and Third avenues, where the tour begins and ends.
Replacement of some curbs and sidewalks is part of the MDT project.
MDT said part of its project could include landscaping and beautification. Janine Donoven is heading a committee to investigate what Havre wants done with that.
Detours and access to businesses during construction is a big question for many business owners in the area. Craig Anderson, Ron Floren and Brian Doll head a committee to investigate and plan for that.
Vandeberg said everyone in the community, not just downtown business owners, needs to be involved in the process. The Chamber is helping to coordinate the planning with the city and county governments, and Vandeberg said MDT has offered to be a working partner in the process.
Havre has the opportunity to decide exactly what will happen with the street, Vandeberg said, but will have to take steps to make sure that what it wants does happen.
"Pretty much it's a blank sheet of paper, what we want to do," she said. "(But) we all know once the pen goes to the paper it's pretty hard to change that."
Part of the project involves the city installing new water and sewage infrastructure under the street. Havre director of public works Dave Peterson said any city has to guarantee the infrastructure for 20 years before MDT can start working on its streets.
Havre hasn't had major problems with the infrastructure in the area MDT will be working on, Peterson said, but some of it does need work. Being able to piggyback on the MDT project and eliminating the need to excavate and replace the street will save the taxpayer quite a bit of money, he added.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said it's a win-win situation for Havre.
"We get the water and sewage system and get a new street that's safer and wider," he said.
MDT worked on First Street West in the summer of 2000, eliminating on-street parking and creating a turning lane from the western edge of Havre to Montana Avenue.