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State asks Havre to help pay for sidewalk project

The area administrator of the Montana Department of Transportation said he can't keep his commitment to pay for replacing the sidewalks above Havre Beneath the Streets, but he'll try to find out out if MDT can pay part of the bill.

"I'll do everything I can to come up with a couple hundred thousand (dollars)," Mick Johnson, MDT's Great Falls administrator, said at a meeting Wednesday with city officials, members of the Havre Beneath the Streets board and a downtown business owner. "I don't have half a million dollars to do sidewalks with."

Johnson said the city of Havre would have to come up with the rest.

The state's portion would be part of a project planned to rebuild about 2 miles of U.S. Highway 2 where it passes through Havre as First Street.

MDT's consultant, Morrison Maierle Inc., estimates the cost would be more than $600,000 to replace the sidewalks and strengthen the vaults beneath them to preserve Havre Beneath the Streets. The sidewalks are on Second and Third avenues from First Street to the alley.

That option requires building new walls and floors and reinforcing the roof to hold the sidewalks.

Another option suggested by the consultant is to build new underground walls in the vaults closer to the buildings and fill in a part of all the vaults. That would cost about $185,000, Johnson said. It also would close three displays of Havre Beneath the Streets under Third Avenue, said Frank DeRosa, board president of Havre Beneath the Streets. The tourist attraction reproduces early 20th century Havre businesses in sidewalk vaults and basements in downtown Havre.

At DeRosa's request, Johnson earlier in the project's planning had committed to replacing the sidewalks over the tourist attraction.

DeRosa said at the time that his nonprofit organization needed help replacing the sidewalks, both to improve the appearance and prevent safety hazards, such as people tripping over cracks in the sidewalks. He said the vaulted sidewalks are reinforced and not in danger of collapsing.

Once the cost of replacing the vaulted sidewalks became known, Johnson said Wednesday, he could not keep his commitment. He said he had no idea at the time that the cost could be over $500,000. He said he would have expected $50,000 to be a high estimate for replacing both sidewalks.

"I made a commitment I can't live up to," he said.

Havre Mayor Bob Rice said he is pursuing a funding source that might provide the rest, but declined to name the source until he knows whether it will be successful. He has other options in mind that could help replace at least part of the sidewalks if his first source falls through, he said.

Rice said maintaining Havre Beneath the Streets is a high priority.

"If we shut that business down, other businesses are also going to feel the effect," he said.

DeRosa said it's important to maintain the integrity of the tourist attraction, which usually has more than 10,000 visitors a year.

Meanwhile, the price of the First Street project, originally estimated at $6 million to $7 million, has skyrocketed to $14.6 million. The project is scheduled to start in 2006.

Slope requirements in the Americans with Disabilities Act for curb cuts meant MDT would have had to replace almost all of the sidewalks along First Street in the project, so MDT decided to replace all of them, which added more than $1 million, Johnson said.

In order to meet the slope requirements on the corners of Second and Third avenues and First Street, some of the sidewalks over Havre Beneath the Streets may need to be replaced as well, Johnson said. He added that how much sidewalk would have to be replaced has not been determined yet.

Replacing and improving the storm drainage on First Street added about $5.5 million to the cost.


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