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'Do It Right' Committee lobbying for 6th Street West alignment

Three West Fargo business owners are on a mission to 'do it right' when it comes to 6th Street West.

Tom Kenville, Mid-America Aviation, 601 W. Main, Del Hofer, Fargo Harley-Davidson, 600 W. Main, and Dennis Rheault, formerly Dan's Oil, 413 W. Main, are lobbying to insure that 6th Street West on the north side of Main aligns with 6th Street West on the south side - a move they feel is crucial to the existence of their businesses located along the corridor, as well as a safety factor for everyone traveling that route.

The group has been committed to the cause since 2005 and formally meeting since 2008 in an effort to impact and influence this realization.

The alignment is under consideration in Phase III of Main Avenue reconstruction expected to occur in 2015, but the 'do it right' committee wants to see the alignment occur as soon as possible independent of the proposed project.

In order for this to happen, the West Fargo City Commission will have to offer their support and other plans and specifications will have to be put in place, including satisfying North Dakota Department of Transportation (ND DOT) criteria, which Kevin Gorder, assistant district engineer for the ND DOT, said are all about safety for the users and would include not compromising the integrity of the roadway.

He said allowing the realignment would indeed be a city decision, but the DOT would have advance input regarding how 6th Street would connect to Main Avenue and what the effect would be on establishing either the new bridge with guard rails or the box culverts which are still being proposed in phase III. "We do care how 6th Street will connect with Main Avenue," he stated, "but outside of that, it is a local issue and up to the city to determine what will work best. Main Avenue is a U.S. Highway and one of our bigger roads, so we would be concerned if any changes caused traffic challenges. We want to protect the route and have a flow of traffic and access that are reasonable." Toward that end, Gorder repeated the ND DOT would work cooperatively as long as Main Avenue is not harmed and its usage maintained according to all federal and state standards.

As the plan sits right now, the ND DOT's preferred alternative for phase III of Main Avenue reconstruction calls for a divided highway with a median extending the entire corridor and the offsets left as they are now for 6th Street West. The plan allows for an access cut for traffic coming from the north side of 6th Street to turn either east or west. Traffic coming from the west wishing to turn north, will have to travel to Sheyenne Street and make a u-turn and travel back to turn onto 6th Street NW. On the north side of Main, another alternative is to turn in on 8th Street and take the street along the back side (First Avenue North) to the Harley Davidson shop.

The ND DOT said the full median plan was deemed the best choice based on safety and road condition concerns, after concluding there is not enough traffic to warrant 6th Street alignment on the north and south side. Approximately 900 vehicles a day travel that 6th Street roadway; and accidents are at a minimum. City of West Fargo staff also support the preferred alternative for the same reasons.

In addition to the full median choice, there are also three proposed alternatives that will ultimately be considered and can be constructed if there is overall consensus to do so - one of them being the alignment of 6th Street, which would involve channeling 6th Street south through where the Riverside Apartments are located at 509-511 West Main.

Project officials contend that the extension of 6th Street through this same area could not be completed without substantially shoring up the area to accommodate the roadway, and either a bridge with guard rails or the box culverts expected to be completed along with phase III. If problems still exist in realizing a bridge or the box culverts because of the unstable soil conditions, that could also put any possible realignment of 6th Street in total jeopardy given the close proximity of everything.

In anticipation of how this will all play out, Kenville purchased the Riverside Apartment property, and approached the West Fargo City Commission in November of 2009 requesting they acquire it to convert a portion into a park to beautify the city entrance at the site adjacent to the bridge, as well as accommodate the space required for 6th Street realignment if that were to occur.

Kenville purchased the property for $170,000 and offered to sell it to the city for $170,000, along with an additional $50,000 to demolish the buildings and return the site to its natural state.

The city declined, saying they had no need for the property at that time for beautification purposes. That is the position they also hold at the present, but that status could change if the citizens of the area voice their approval to the city commission.

Kenville said the goal is to still sell the property to the city for the alignment and he is willing to be flexible with any type of financial arrangement that works best for the city. "I would really like to know why they are delaying this? They are giving up five years of safety and beautification."

Kenville also points out that there is considerable neighborhood acceptance for their proposal. Approximately 400 people petitioned with surveys in August of 2008 favored a direct access alignment of 6th Street on Main, with no median interference turning right or left. These petitions have been formally presented to the West Fargo City Commission, and Kenville said he can also muster additional support from residents and businesses if that becomes necessary.

City officials still remain firm in their stand to address the possible 6th Street alignment in the final design of phase III reconstruction.

City Administrator Jim Brownlee said he sees no need for doing the project now given the fact there is full access for residents and businesses both north and south off of Main Avenue in this area.

He said another issue is the setback from the river, noting that with the current requirements the roads still wouldn't line up unless the river bank was reinforced and it was deemed safe and viable to do construction within the 100 yard setback.

Brownlee added that to the present, "There has been no study completed on shoring up the river bank. We are estimating work at approximately $1 million, with at least another $300,000 needed to move the road, based on the city engineer's estimate. That's a big amount."

He explained that state funding will cover the cost of activity involved with the preferred alternative but for anything else the city would have to pick up the entire tab as part of the local share. This would mean special assessments to residents and businesses in the area involved. "They had a petition that said they support it, but do they know that it will come with a financial burden? This is not just a simple road project," Brownlee stated. "There are a lot of things that would need to go into this to get it accomplished."

Mayor Rich Mattern concurred adding "from what I understand, there could be a huge cost associated with this. It's going to be expensive and somebody is going to have to pay for it. These individuals would be the beneficiaries, so I assume they would bear most of the cost."

Nonetheless, the 'do it right' committee is firm in their resolve to see it through to the end result of beautification, safety, excellent access, and the next 50 years of use by West Fargo citizens. They say that without the 6th Street alignment as part of the Main Avenue redesign, their businesses will not be accessible, and their customer base will dry up, forcing them out of business or to relocate.

Kenville said that business owners have met several times and rather than criticize the ND DOT, have joined together and developed an offer that they feel is an acceptable solution. "We don't begrudge emphasis on growth in any part of the city, but we do not want the impact and significance of the Main Avenue West corridor to be forgotten. These are the merchants who have gotten the city where it is today. This project will be the transportation routing for many years into the future and we want to have it done right.

"Our story is the same since we started Main Avenue reconstruction discussion," Kenville added. "The key is to keep traffic, and the key to doing that is full access. We need a full access intersection there that is in and out, and we'd like to see it completed sooner, rather than later."

Hofer and Rheault wholeheartedly echo similar sentiments, saying they draw hundreds of people to their businesses everyday. "What more could a city ask for?" Hofer asked. "The city should look out for its currently established businesses. I agree with fixing the road on Main, but we are not going to sit by and let them do what they did on South University and by Swanson Equipment on West Main in Fargo. We want to stay in business and we have to make it easy for our customers to get in and out. As soon as you make it difficult, the customers will find out and they won't stop."

Hofer said that with his destination business he sees 150-200 visits a day. "If you don't have access they won't come, it's that simple. I like West Fargo and I think the police and sanitation departments are superior to work with and we support the National Night Out heavily to prove that. Why would you take a business that contributes tax dollars, creates traffic and brings in business, and force them out when we have the opportunity to fix the problem at a minimum cost to the city. When does city obligation to me start? As a business owner for twenty years, I think I've proved my part to the city of what I can do for them."

Rheault agreed. "Our business was down 50 percent during the first phase. We have recovered from that and are willing to take another hit with phase three if they are willing to do it right for the betterment of the whole city.

"Everything should stand on its own merit. None of us are against Main Avenue reconstruction but we stand for what we are about. With the alignment, the flow of traffic will be so much nicer. The current preferred way (as per the ND DOT) you can come up and turn one way, the 'do it right' committee way allows drivers to go both ways."

'Do it right' committee members admit that their 'preferred alternative' comes with an additional price tag, but they also feel it is one that can be realized with minimal hardship for those having to contribute.

Brownlee said the usual assessment on a street is 50 percent both ways, but everything depends on how large the assessment district is. As a for instance, if special assessments were based off an estimated $900,000 increase in the local share attributed to a total of 300 homes north and south of Main Avenue, each would pay a one time shot of $3000, payable over 15 years, amounting to $350 a year.

The 'do it right' committee contends the assessment district should stretch the entire length of the Main Avenue reconstruction project, all the way from 45th Street to the Red River Valley Fairgrounds.

Brownlee said the City Commission could also decide not to create a special assessment district to fund it, but instead agree to the city paying it all through a funding method to be determined.

"There are huge unknowns right now, about the whole project," Brownlee added. "As of right now, there is no federal funding for either the second or third phase. The entire Main Avenue project has been initially approved, and they had enough money to do the first phase and the next two phases are in the plans, but if the feds don't provide the money, we just don't do the next two sections."

Details of all the ramifications of accomplishing a 6th Street alignment will no doubt have to be worked out, but members of the 'do it right' committee are convinced it is indeed a 'doable' project, at a funding arrangement that will be acceptable from a taxpayer's standpoint.

For the time being, they would like to see the city reconsider the purchase of the old Riverside Apartment property now and get rolling on the process, which in actuality, could still take at least a year to complete.

Phase II of the Main Avenue reconstruction from 6th Street East to 45th Street is expected to take place in 2012. Final design plans are expected to be in place in 2011 with bids also to be let that year. The same rule of thumb is expected to apply for Phase III, with the final design in place in 2014 and bids let the same year for a 2015 start-up on construction - with the fate, of course, all contingent upon federal funding.

If you have an opinion on this project, you are encouraged to contact West Fargo City Hall at 433-5300, or the West Fargo Pioneer at 451-5718, to share your comments.