By Ross Markman
From Havre Mayor Bob Rice to Hill County Planner Clay Vincent to more than 20 residents in attendance, the overwhelming sentiment at City Hall Thursday night was evident: A road project that would provide residents and motorists east of 14th Avenue an easier link to the southern end of town is not a popular one.
What was intended to be a forum to discuss details of the proposed road became a plea by Havre residents to the Montana Department of Transportation to drop the plan from its to-do list.
"This is just a waste of time. This would be just a big strip where we live," said Bullhook Road homeowner Scott Hanson. "We need to put a stop to this project."
The proposal calls for the construction of a new street from the Fifth Avenue-South Dell Street intersection to the south end of 12th Avenue. The project would then continue north, with improvements to 12th Avenue, to the intersection with Eighth Street, and then would extend east to the intersection of 14th Avenue.
The design encompasses 2 miles of road, 1 of which would be newly constructed. The new portion would include two 12-foot driving lanes and two 8-foot shoulders. It would also feature a storm drainage system to divert runoff into Bullhook Creek.
The purpose of the new road, MDT public involvement specialist John Robinson said, is threefold. It would reduce traffic on Fifth Avenue, aid in developing the southeast corner of Havre and serve as another route to Havre High School, Robinson said.
But is the new road a priority in the minds of Havre residents?
"I think money spent other places is better," homeowner Marty Barger said.
"I'm wondering why the state is interested in doing this at all," resident Chris Vincent added.
The state, however, was not the entity that came up with the new road idea, MDT officials said. The city was.
"This project was requested by the city of Havre and Hill County. This project was not initiated by the state," said Robert Thomson, MDT district engineering services supervisor. "We the MDT did not invent this. We proceeded upon good faith."
Havre cannot afford costs associated with the construction right now, city public works director Dave Peterson said.
"At this time, this project isn't viable," he said.
The project, launched in 1998 by then Mayor Phyllis Leonard, was actually first proposed and designed in 1971 as part of Havre's comprehensive plan. The intention then was to stretch the new road into Highland Park and ultimately link it with U.S. Highway 87.
Plans now do not extend the road to Highway 87 in the next 10 to 20 years, Peterson said.
The current project, which could take 1 years to complete, is estimated to cost between $5 million and $5.5 million, according to Mick Johnson, Great Falls district administrator for the MDT. It would be paid for with money allocated by the state for construction and repair of urban routes well-traveled streets that are owned and maintained by the city.
"The (urban route) allocation now is probably over $2 million," Thomson said. "The money can be made available for any federal aid urban project."
The city would be responsible for paying for any utilities affected by the construction. MDT estimated sewer and water work to cost about $700,000.
Peterson, though, estimated infrastructure work to cost $1.2 million, because, the city intended to continue the water lines to Northern Montana Hospital. Havre, he said, has a $500,000 Treasure State Endowment Program grant it received two years ago to offset the cost.
"I don't foresee anybody using this road," Havre High School student Jeremy Keller said. "It's not a feasible use of city money."
"I've already said it. I didn't agree with this when it was instituted and I don't agree with it now," Rice said. "We don't have the money to do this project. I don't know why we're doing it."
In an effort to cancel the project, Rice said he'll send a letter to Johnson saying why he opposes the road.
"I don't know what's it's going to take to stop it, but I'm going to send a formal letter out tomorrow," he said. "There are other things in Havre we need more than we need this project."
Rice and Peterson suggested using the urban route money to improve 10th Street and First Avenue, otherwise known as Hospital Road. Before that can be done, the MDT must classify those roads as urban routes, Robinson said.
"We just don't want main routes going through quiet residential areas," Vincent said. "This could become like another Fifth Avenue."
One resident spoke in favor of the new road Richard Smith. Constructing the route, he said, is good for the future of Havre.
"When we're looking at planning, we need to look ahead. Sometimes you've got to do things that are not logical now to fit the big picture later on," Smith said. "I believe this will help that end of town."
Most in attendance disagreed.
"Probably most or all of the people here are adamantly against this project," said Val Murri, who is the business manager for the Havre Daily News.
Added Hanson, "There's 100 percent negative and no positive. I just think we need to put a stop to this as soon as we can."