Devils Lake city commissioners will make a decision in October on what has become a controversial proposal: the revamping of downtown streets.

Devils Lake city commissioners will make a decision in October on what has become a controversial proposal: the revamping of downtown streets.  The construction will take most of a summer to complete, and access to downtown and its businesses will be limited because “pedestrian bumps” and sidewalks are part of the plan.

The city planned, in 2015, to make repairs to a few of the streets in town which meant overlays, new concrete where needed, patching some dilapidated sidewalks, and filling potholes.  The city would use federal aid money set aside by the state and available through the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDoT).  This 2015 plan was estimated at $1.7 million; eighty percent of the total would come from the federal aid set aside, and twenty percent from the city, which is paid for through assessments.

Gov. Doug Burgum announced his Main Street Initiative, and that changed everything.  When the Initiative was announced, Devils Lake was one of three cities offered a grant to improve all streets and sidewalks downtown, and extending the current pedestrian bumps, the sidewalk extensions at intersections.

“We had gone through all the environmental permitting,” said Mike Grafsgaard.  “This grant would let us do more than just patch things.”  Grafsgaard is the Public Works Director.

The DoT formula will still apply, but now the primary funding will come from the DoT and not from the city’s federal aid fund.  The city will be responsible for twenty percent.  

“Our problem,” said Grafsgaard, “was making the proposed property assessment fair.  The assessments for road construction and sidewalk construction are separate, and some of the cost for monuments—the trees, benches, and such—have nothing to do with the property owners’ sidewalks and roadways.  The city settled on having the sales tax pay half the total assessment and property owners the other half.  The city also weighted property owners by the amount of property affected by construction.  That is, those with more property were given a larger say in the project.”

That’s where the controversy started, with some of the larger property owners.  “We made changes to the original design because of their concerns and objections,” said Grafsgaard.  The opposition arose over the elimination of parking spots because of the bump construction.  The city redesigned the parking and added back in half the spots.

“The pedestrian bumps are designed to put people out beyond parked vehicles but not in the street,” said Grafsgaard.  “It’s about safety.  The redesign of the bumps we have will make it easier to clean and remove snow.  There’s a curvature at the base that eliminates some parking spots, but as they’re constructed now, there’s a corner that keeps snow and dirt piled.”

The total estimate for the project is $6.4 million.  The city’s share is $1.2 million (twenty percent), plus an additional $400,000 for design and engineering, totaling $1.6 million.  That amount will be split fifty-fifty between sales tax and assessments.  The federal aid is $4.8 million (eighty percent).

“The cost for this downtown project won’t come out of our DoT funds,” Grafsgaard said.  “Our money can still be used for other repairs across the city.”  Grafsgaard stressed that any construction project is disruptive, but this isn’t going to be going anything beyond streets and sidewalks.

“We did all the other stuff, sewer, water, replaced it all in 1992,” he said.  “This isn’t going to be anything like Minot, where they replaced everything all the way to the building’s front.  This is just roads and sidewalks.”