Ellen Huber: Memorial Highway study recommends strengthening what’s there
At a public information and input meeting held Feb. 4, consultants studying Memorial Highway recommended the community strengthen what’s there – agribusiness, auto row, recreational amenities and a location for offices and services – rather than trying to change it into something it’s not, such as a location for big box retail.
Key points from the preliminary overall market update included that Mandan is capturing its proportionate share of the region’s population growth at 23 percent. We’re actually exceeding our share of single family home growth at 31 percent, but slightly behind in the multi-family residential growth at 18 percent. Mandan’s average per capita income level has risen faster in the last decade than Bismarck’s, yet the gap in our median household income is increasing.
And while we have gaps between our demand and supply in certain retail categories, the consultants say it’s not sufficient at this point to attract a Walmart or big box retailer for building supplies, clothing or sporting goods. It is sufficient for smaller retailers, particularly the gap for restaurants and the lack of stores in the Memorial Highway area to serve nearby neighborhoods.
The land use and planning experts recommend buffers to transition between uses. They suggest the best use of Dacotah Centennial Park is to enhance it for outdoor recreational use and to add an enclosed space for activities and events that need a wide-open area.
Regarding Memorial Highway itself, they recommend three intersections be re-aligned to meet the roadway at 90-degree angles for improved line of sight and safety. The intersections are at 46th Ave S.E., 40th Ave S.E. and Third Street S.E.
Engineers studying traffic counts and patterns say the four driving lanes and one turning lane are sufficient to meet traffic needs for the foreseeable future. Plans don’t call for a frontage road, nor is a median proposed except at the major intersections. Where there are now about 100 driveways along Memorial Highway, preliminary plans would reduce the number to about 76.
Options for dealing with storm water include an underground storm sewer system complemented by either a dry ditch on one side of the road or a dry pond for periods of overflow. The roadway could also be lowered to allow the adjacent properties to drain into the underground storm sewer system. Consultants are also studying the possibility of putting highline wires underground. There is room in the existing right of way to rebuild the street and add a sidewalk or multi-use path without infringing on the property of adjacent businesses.
Incidentally, some means of accommodating pedestrian and bike traffic is required to receive federal matching dollars for a project. The study that’s currently being conducted is also a requirement.
The planning and design professionals recommend an overhead arch or other markers at 46th Avenue to celebrate entry to Mandan. They suggest a design that embraces Mandan’s heritage and theme, “Where the West Begins,” such as the use of an “M” brand.
Funding for the whole project is a major concern for adjacent businesses. The local share is expected to be 10 percent of transportation related items. Twenty percent is the likely maximum. There will probably be utility costs that won’t be eligible for federal and state funding that would fall Mandan’s way.
City Administrator Jim Neubauer explained the model that’s been used on recent arterial street improvement projects such as Mandan Avenue and Collins Avenue. A portion of the cost has been allocated to a special assessment district, a portion covered through the general mill levy through property taxes throughout the municipality, and a portion covered through sales tax.
Whether the project advances in six or more years will depend on congressional action on the federal highway bill and how funding is allocated to the North Dakota Department of Transportation and, in turn, to the city of Mandan for arterial street work. The corridor study is a first step.
Next would come engineering plans and cost estimates for various alternatives. With cost estimates provided per parcel, a near final step would be to create a special assessment district. Property owners will have the right to file a protest. It takes 50 percent support within a district for a project to move forward. The project would be bid and there’s still an opportunity to reject bids.
Throughout this whole several year process, there will be a lot more public information and input sessions. The next public information and input meeting is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, March 11, at 6 p.m. at the Prairie West Golf Course Clubhouse.
The plans proposed for Memorial Highway offer an opportunity and a vision to further develop and access vacant and underutilized properties within the area to increase Mandan’s commercial and retail sector. It’s a plan that can be implemented in phases.
The whole presentation with maps and drawings from the Feb. 4 session is being posted at www.mandanmemorialhighway.com. The public is encouraged to comment on the corridor’s strengths and weaknesses through an online survey open until March 5.