Funding problems may delay Cherry Street work

Funding problems may delay Cherry Street work by Randy Dockendorf A $4.6 million state highway project which goes through the heart of Vermillion may be pushed back a year because of the unresolved federal highway bill, state Department of Transportation officials said Tuesday.

The DOT officials announced the delay during the public meeting on the Highway 50 (Cherry Street) project. The DOT plans to improve three miles of the highway from the west junction of Highway 19 to the beginning of the divided highway east of town.

Tuesday�s meeting, the second one for the project, included a presentation and public comment. The first meeting, held in February, was an open house where the public could examine plans and ask individual questions.

Because Congress has not passed a federal highway bill, the DOT has had to �reprogram� its long-range construction plans, said chief road design engineer Joel Gengler.

�Originally, Cherry Street was set for construction in 2007. Now, we are looking at 2008,� he said. �We are waiting for the federal bill passage for highway funding. They have extended the current transportation bill until July 19. They have already extended it for two years.�

The inaction in Congress has backed up state plans, Gengler said.

�It forces us to project a more conservative funding level. We have to be able to nail our construction (dates),� he said. �For Cherry Street, we are looking at construction beginning in 2008 and completed in 2009. But 2008 may be moved to 2007 with funding.�

In a separate interview Mayor Dan Christopherson said the possible delay �may be a blessing in disguise.�

�The Coyote Student Center (at the University of South Dakota) is scheduled for demolition beginning in 2006 with reconstruction in 2007,� he said. �That�s a major building project on Cherry Street. I would hate to have a road torn up just as they are completing a major project.�

The timing of the Cherry Street project will determine whether the city faces traffic problems in conjunction with USD construction plans, Christopherson said.

�If the Cherry Street project is delayed until 2008, then there wouldn�t be major conflicts,� he said. �If Cherry Street is pushed to 2007, then we have scheduling issues.�

The first meeting in February drew complaints for its lack of a formal presentation. At the request of the Vermillion City Council, DOT engineer Ron Peterson provided more information on the project at a city meeting. Tuesday�s public meeting was also scheduled.

�I believe the DOT is making every effort to get local input. They try to take seriously the concerns of the people,� Christopherson said. �That�s the way government ought to operate. It�s refreshing.�

The Cherry Street project includes widening the section between James Street and Cottage Avenue to three lanes, replacing the section between Cottage and Plum with the same lane configuration, and widening the section from Plum to Crawford Street to five lanes. The highway will get a new concrete surface and storm sewer.

Crews will also replace sidewalks where needed. In addition, the loop ramp on Highway 50 will be modified and a left turn lane will be added at the west junction of Highway 19.

Turn to street on Page 13

Tuesday�s information included the acquisition of right-of-way, relocation assistance, the environmental impacts of the project, and the economic and social effects of the project�s location and design. The public could also present written comments at the meeting, and comments will be taken at the DOT office in Pierre until July 22.

Cherry Street was originally constructed in 1952. The last improvement was in 1980. The average daily traffic (ADT) count for 2002 was 10,205 vehicles, projected to hit an ADT of 14,780 in 2022.

The traffic counts were taken during the winter to reflect USD student numbers, Gengler said.

�The hope is that (the highway) lasts 40 to 50 years. We are looking at today and also 30 to 40 years down the road,� he said. �Once you get past 15 to 17 years, it�s like looking into a crystal ball. When you are talking 40 years, it�s a crap shoot. You don�t know the economy and if the traffic will stabilize.�

At Tuesday�s meeting, audience members expressed concerns for turning Cherry Street from three lanes on the east end of town until Plum Street, then turning it into a five-lane highway. While audience members were split on whether Cherry Street should be three or five lanes, a number of people called for the street to remain consistent throughout Vermillion.

Gengler said the number of lanes depends on factors such as peak-hour traffic volumes, the number of driveways, the driveway spacing, turning movements, the number of pedestrians and the highway�s accident history.

From 2001-03, Cherry Street saw 73 total accidents, which include 19 involving a left turn, 11 involving an angle and 31 involving rear-end collisions. Of that total, 61 accidents — or 84 percent — were related to driveways or intersections.

In Yankton, the number of accidents plummeted 50 percent after improvements were made on a stretch of east Highway 50 entering the city, Gengler said.

During public comments, resident Joe Edelen expressed frustration with the length of stop lights, particularly at the Ratingen Strasse junction on the USD campus. He said he spoke with state officials about changing the timing now rather than waiting three years for the Cherry Street project.

Gengler acknowledged the special situation posed by a large number of vehicles and pedestrians on the USD campus.

�Ideally, we would have a highway not going through a college campus, but that�s where the chips have fallen,� he said.

Resident Paul Hasse asked if changes could be made to the current problems with street lights and signs blocked by trees and other obstructions, particularly on the USD campus.

Hasse also encouraged the DOT to go for five lanes on the current project rather than make future changes. �Why not make it all five lanes instead of coming back in 30 years for new?� he asked.

Businessman Larry Brady added that he was concerned about the current traffic bottleneck with three lanes by his businesses on east Cherry Street. The problem will worsen if predictions of spikes in traffic numbers come true, he said.

On the other hand, resident Judy Clark said five lanes could create a comfort level among drivers resulting in higher speeds. The area already has safety hazards, she said.

�A busload of kids get dropped off at the fast food places, and the kids take off. To cross five lanes of traffic even with a center turning lane is dangerous,� she said.

After the meeting, Christopherson said the Cherry Street project will be worth the short-term inconveniences.

�We are looking at economic development, and that�s important,� he said. �It�s painful for now, but that�s the price of construction. It�s worth the wait.�

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