City should seek Chestnut Street options by Lynette Melby Vermillion residents have circulated petitions to bring a proposed plan for the improvement of Chestnut Street to a vote. This issue concerns a six-block stretch of Chestnut Street, a road in lower Vermillion between University and Dakota Streets.
We absolutely want to see Chestnut Street improved. There are, however, alternatives to the proposed plan. The present plan has safety and environmental concerns, and alternatives exist that cost much less than the proposed $1.3 million.
Safety is the central concern with the proposal. The plan would put a 28-foot concrete road with curb, gutter and streetlights on a strip of ground that is too narrow. To achieve that width, the current road must be raised by as much as five feet. After raising the road, it would be built out towards the railroad tracks with a concrete retaining wall between the road and tracks, a vertical wall as steep as 19 feet in places. (The wall itself is $900,000 of the cost.)
This steep concrete wall will be very close to busy railroad tracks. The city has put substantial investment into Cotton Park and the bike path in this same area, meant to draw children. Unfortunately, this steep wall next to the tracks will draw those same children, creating a dangerous situation. Also, by widening and lighting the road, vehicle speed will increase.
Many residents of lower Vermillion were supportive of the petition and oppose this plan because it brings increased large truck traffic through their residential area. Many farmers are also against the proposed design. Due to the steepness of the drop-off, a guardrail would be necessary. Currently, they are able to move to the side to let oncoming traffic pass. With the proposed design, farm implements will no longer be able to meet each other safely, requiring some to back up.
Environmental concerns and liability problems that have not been addressed are an issue. Many building projects in Vermillion are required to have an environmental impact study to determine potential negative ramifications of the proposed project.
This is a $1.3 million project, yet the city has done no such study. The north side of the road is a steep bluff. Landowners on the bluff have historically been told not to "tamper" with the bluff, as some of it is fill dirt, and not to disturb natural vegetation, as it is needed to hold the bluff in place.
This plan would cut into that bluff, as well as remove natural vegetation. Passing trains vibrate this land; after it is cut, vibration and weather could cause damage to intensify. Once erosion starts it will be a costly situation, yet the city has done no soil tests and has no plan to address their liability for these damages.
When this plan was designed years ago, the cost was to be less than half the proposed $1.3 million. While circulating petitions, we were met with concerns about the cost as well as relevant questions: Are there other street improvement projects that would benefit a greater number of citizens, as no one lives on this road? If this is a $1.3 million project to make a "farm to market road," why are residents of the city being asked to pay the cost? Is there any financial involvement by the county? For whom are we improving this road if many residents of lower Vermillion do not want increased truck traffic?
Taxpayers were asked to support the construction of a new bridge over the Missouri River and the replacement of Dawson Bridge over the Vermillion River. These projects were supposedly going to bring commerce into Vermillion. Why, then, are we building a road to DIVERT traffic from our downtown and Cherry Street areas? A problem that has hindered our downtown businesses and frustrated residents for years is lack of downtown parking. Could some of these funds be better spent in the downtown area to provide parking to benefit all residents versus building a six-block road that would benefit few?
The city has had this plan in the works for many years. That does not, however, necessarily make it a good plan. The cost of the project has skyrocketed over these years. Construction materials, methods and lighting technology have changed. This may have been a viable plan 10 years ago; that doesn't mean it is viable today. We ask for this vote because there are safer, sounder alternatives. We were originally told that we could not bring a vote on Chestnut Street because it was "too late." We are now told that Vermillion residents cannot vote on Chestnut Street because it was an "administrative" decision by the city council and is not referable.
No matter what the current "reason," the citizens of Vermillion deserve to be heard. We had overwhelming support while gathering signatures and believe that taxpayers deserve to have input on spending $1.3 million of their money. While we want to see Chestnut Street improved, we want to see it done responsibly and safely.