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Residents express preferences for First Street


Havre Area Chamber of Commerce committees surveyed the community about how it wants to see First Street rebuilt. Committee members are surprised by the results now that the results are in.

Among the results: The majority said they'd prefer that the construction take two seasons instead of one. A majority also preferred the current lane configuration, although many people also said they want a five-lane road, even though that could reduce parking.

Ron Brenna of Havre Laundry and Dry Cleaning, who heads the committee looking into construction options, said he was surprised that people preferred a longer construction project.

"I personally would like to have it done in one season, and get it done. But that's my personal opinion," he said.

Doing the project in one season would probably require the complete closure of several blocks of First Street at a time, while the two-season alternative could allow limited traffic on the street.

The committee met Friday to set an agenda for a meeting today with the Montana Department of Transportation and Morrison Maierle Inc., the consultant MDT hired to do preliminary planning for the project.

The project, set to begin in 2006 or 2007, will rebuild U.S. Highway 2 through the Havre city limits, where it is called First Street. Some of the questions MDT asked people about the project are how many traffic lanes they would like to see on the street, what traffic signals they want, how much onstreet parking they want, how long they want the project to last, and what beautification they would like to see done.

MDT is meeting with Havre and Hill County government officials today, and Morrison Maierle was scheduled to meet with Chamber First Street project committee members afterward. Morrison Maierle will hold a public meeting about the project later this month.

Some of the questions the committee decided to ask the consultant were how much impact the committee and community wishes will have on the final form of the project; whether the use of concrete and lane configurations would stay the same throughout the length of the project; what detours are planned during construction; whether some costs of beautification, like installing electrical wiring, would be part of the main construction cost or come out of beautification funds; how much work will be done to replace sidewalks on First Street and on adjacent avenues; and what the deadline is for design changes.

The Chamber mailed surveys to all businesses in its directory, and the Havre Daily News published the survey. Havre Mayor Bob Rice's office collected the surveys and recorded the results.

About 175 surveys had been returned by the March 7 deadline, but Chamber executive director Debbie Vandeberg said she thinks more than 200 had been returned by Friday, and that the Chamber would add any others that come in late.

Brenna said the committee received results from a pretty good cross section of the community, and that the response rate was good.

The survey results included 104 responses in favor of a two-season construction period, with 71 in favor of a one-season period. The responses for material to be used were more than 2-to-1 in favor of using concrete instead of asphalt, with 110 for concrete, 52 for asphalt and 13 undecided.

Craig Erickson of Bear Paw Development Corp. said people who favored concrete likely also favored the longer construction time. Concrete is expected to last longer than asphalt, but involves more construction time.

Janine Donoven of J.M. Donoven Designs in Fine Jewelry, who heads the committee looking into beautification during the project, said she thinks people preferred the more durable concrete because they are tired of driving over potholes on the street.

A major concern for businesses on the north side of the project, especially on the west end and the eastern end of First Street, is access to their businesses, Brenna said. Some places, like MacDonald's and Havre Distributors, would have no access if First Street is closed. He said MDT is negotiating with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to provide access to businesses over its land during construction.

For lane configurations, 87 respondents want to keep the current configuration, which alternates from five lanes to four lanes and then back to five lanes.

Sixty-seven prefer one of two forms of a five-lane configuration, with 37 saying they prefer five lanes with limited parking, probably on alternating sides of the street, and 30 prefer a modified five-lane configuration with narrower traffic and parking lanes.

There were 23 responses in favor of a three-lane configuration with two traffic lanes, a turning lane and full parking.

MDT officials have said that the number of traffic lanes will probably have to be adjusted to reduce the number of rear-end collisions on the street. The rate of collisions is considerably higher than on other streets with similar traffic, they said.

Brenna said Friday that when the first surveys started coming back, he was concerned because the majority showed a preference for a five-lane configuration with reduced parking or narrower lanes. Members of the downtown business community have said they are concerned that their businesses will be hurt if onstreet parking is reduced.

He said he suspected that people might not have realized the impact their choice would have on parking.

Dave Peterson, Havre director of public works, said having traffic lanes next to property makes it difficult to keep the businesses attractive as well. Cars going through puddles throw water and mud up at buildings, windows and signs, he said.

Mick Johnson, director of MDT's Great Falls regional office, has said the department will include $100,000 to be used for beautification. On the surveys, 121 responses favored installing period lighting during the project, 112 favored planting trees, 57 favored planting shrubs, 52 favored installing planters and four favored installing benches.

Erickson pointed out that period lighting is very expensive. A project in Harlem spent more than $20,000 for 16 period light poles and lights, he said.

Brenna said the money MDT has said it will use for beautification probably won't cover the entire cost.

"If period lighting is really what everybody wants, we're going to have to raise a ton of money," he said.

Pam Harada of Havre Job Service said beautification needs to be done on the east end of the project as well as downtown. People driving in from the east should see an attractive view, she said.

"We need something that gives them a favorable impression coming into town," Harada said.


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