Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias Yikes!

That was my first mental reaction after learning that the city was planning to upgrade a half-mile stretch of Chestnut Street in lower Vermillion to the tune of approximately $1.3 million.

If my calculations are correct (and I'm taking a big risk here, because I never was very good at math) that means the city would spend approximately $500 per foot, or about $42 per inch, to widen, put a hard surface, and add curb and gutter to that small stretch of road between Dakota and University streets.

Late last week, after listening to the pros and cons of the project at a special joint meeting of the Vermillion City Council and the Clay County Commission, I was all ready to set up camp among those who voiced opinions unfavorable to the project.

My main objection to the proposal, as I raised my mallet in preparation of driving in my first tent stake of opposition, was its sheer cost. Little more. Little less.

Last Friday, I was telling myself and anyone else who was willing to listen that surely there are less expensive alternatives that the city could explore.

That was then. Today, I'm forced to admit that I've had to pull up stakes and move. I'm now in the camp that proposes that the roadwork be done, despite its astronomical price tag.

Cold, hard reality changed my mind.

In the five years I've lived in Vermillion, I've maybe driven on Chestnut Street three or four times, and never paid much attention to it. At best, it simply reminded me of the network of gravel roads that connected the farms in rural Minnehaha County where I grew up.

I drove on the road once more on Monday, and tried my best to think in a variety of different terms.

I had originally thought that the city could simply put asphalt or cement on the current grade of the road. If I was an engineer, however, I could see how that wouldn't work. Chestnut Street poses a unique challenge, with a steep bluff on its north side and a rather precarious drop off to the railroad tracks below if anyone was unfortunate enough to drive off its south lane.

Thinking in terms of a farmer or agribusinessman, I frankly don't know how they've been able to tolerate the poor condition of Chestnut Street for so long. It's barely wide enough for two standard-sized pickups traveling in opposite directions to skootch by�each other without losing an exterior rear view mirror.

When traveling west on the road, the driver of a combine or semi or other wide vehicle or piece of farm equipment is hugging the bluff. When traveling east, those drivers need to be sure to stay clear of a row of power poles.

I had originally reasoned that a better option for the city would be to simply put a better surface on the existing roadbed � something a bit more firm than the gumbo that one must navigate through now on the lowmaintenance road.

Simply improving the surface won't solve the road's problems, however. In some places, according to the city engineer's estimates, the road would only be 20 feet wide if the city chose that option.

That's simply not acceptable for a farm-to-market road, a role which Chestnut Street has fulfilled quite poorly for decades now.

The street will become busier once the Missouri River bridge is completed. And, in fact, that's another important reason for Chestnut Street to be improved. Other steps have been taken recently to assure that two-way traffic between the Missouri River bridge and Vermillion will be orderly.

A few years ago, the Main Street bridge over the Vermillion River was completed. This fall, the county commission's efforts to provide another traffic link to the Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge on the western outskirts of the city was successful with the reconstruction of the Dawson Bridge.

This work and the construction of the road from the Missouri River bridge to Vermillion was based on an important commitment � the improvement of Chestnut Street. Chestnut Street currently is the missing link in developing a transportation network designed to allow efficient, safe travel through Vermillion to destinations in both eastern and western Clay County.

It's time to make needed improvements to the street.

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