City may alter Chestnut Street design

City may alter Chestnut Street design by David Lias In a staring contest that has lasted nearly a year between Chestnut Street property owners and the city of Vermillion, it appears that the city has blinked first.

After meeting in executive session Monday night, the Vermillion City Council agreed to seek alternatives to the design of the Chestnut Street construction project that would eliminate the need for the acquisition of private property.

Property owners that would be affected by the project � Jeanette Stone, James A. Johnson and Carolyn Johnson, and Neil and Lynette Melby, apparently had responded negatively to the city's recent offers to purchase real estate needed for the street project.

"You can compare the appraised values offered to the property owners and the corresponding amounts suggested by the property owners that they feel would be a fair price for the property," Mayor Roger Kozak said told the council. "In all three cases, it would be safe to say we are not very close."

It appeared Monday that the city may have been ready to obtain the needed property by condemnation.

That likely would have added time and expense to the planning of the street project, however, with the probability of court action to settle any condemnation issues.

City leaders now want to explore the feasibility of changing the design and eliminating the need for additional property.

The city council passed a motion after its executive session to have City Engineer Bill Welk visit with area engineers to request from them an estimate of costs to develop a conceptual road plan.

"The plan would prevent the need for the use of any private property," Kozak said. "We are looking at perhaps a 24-foot (wide) road rather a 28-foot road. We have to find out, engineering-wise, if that would be possible, and still have a guard rail and still have lighting, but the only land that we would be utilizing would be the roadbed, the property that is currently the city's property."

The narrowest part of the existing road is 20 feet wide. "We want to have at least 24 feet, and we believe that is possible, but we need to have an engineering study to validate what we think can be done."

The Vermillion City Council agreed in December 2000 to seek bids for the street improvement project that may cost as much as $1.3 million.

Chestnut Street is approximately one-half mile in length, and provides a link between Dakota and University streets.

The city had planned to pay the estimated $1.3 million price tag for the project with $600,000 of city sales tax revenue, and money from the state of South Dakota and Vermillion's share of Federal Surface Transportation Program funds.

The lion's share of the cost of the original proposed design � approximately $900,000 � was to be used to construct a retaining wall south of Chestnut Street between the railroad tracks. The wall is required by the railroad before the city can fill in the slope by the tracks to widen the street.

By building a 24-foot rather than 28-foot wide street, the city still likely would have to construct a retaining wall, Kozak said.

"We aren't sure just where those smaller portions of the retaining wall might be required," he said. "We aren't going to raise the grade; we will keep the grade where is it at. By going to 24 feet, we don't have to raise the grade, and don't have to cut into any existing land down there."

The city council will find out what it will cost to determine the feasibility of the design change.

"Hopefully it will be a moderate cost, and we will be able to hire an engineering firm to design a road that will meet those specifications," Kozak said.

The street will be paved, as called for originally. By reducing its width, the project's overall cost may be reduced.

"In essence, the design will be the same, but just with a little bit narrower road," Kozak said. "And we think this will also reduce the overall cost of the project. We won't know for sure until there's a preliminary design and estimates prepared."

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