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Business managers, city residents take issue with overpass access plans

The railroad overpass planned for State Avenue will be welcome for some as there will be no more waiting for trains on the west side of town.

But for many businesses that will be losing access to the street, the options to provide alternative access fall short.

At a public hearing during the regular meeting of the Dickinson City Commission, several business managers and owners, as well as residents in the area, spoke out against one or both of the preferred routes provided by the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

The commission is tasked to tell the NDDOT its preferred route, but the state agency has the final say.

“We’re certainly aware there are pros and cons to both options,” Commission Vice President Gene Jackson said. “We know that there’s going to be negative effects to both options. But we are going to have to make a choice. We’re going to have to choose one of them, probably in the next couple of weeks here.”

Jackson led the meeting in the absence of Commission President Dennis Johnson. Commissioner Carson Steiner was also absent.

The first option creates a “backage” road to provide access to businesses on the west side of State Avenue from behind. The second, named Option 5, would extend Hollywood Boulevard under the underpass to provide access to UPS.

Both options create a frontage road to provide access for the businesses in the Pizza Hut building and the parking lot. Three other options all were scrapped early.

“I don’t like — both options are terrible for me,” said Bob Hein, owner of Pizza Hut. “Option 5 is horrible. It takes part of my parking lot. … It’s going to definitely hurt my carry-out business completely. I’d say our carry-out business will be 50 percent of what it is today.”

Some wanted the city to slow the project and consider alternatives, like starting the overpass sooner and allowing for traffic to pass beneath, or moving the overpass west to not conflict with any existing businesses.

“It’s for the public safety that we have to move forward,” Commissioner Shirley Dukart said. “If we don’t have another access, you know what happens? We have 27 trains now per day versus 17 that we used to have.”

The only way to get between the north and south sides of Dickinson when a train is passing through is the Third Avenue underpass. Often, trains take several minutes to pass through.

It becomes a matter of public safety when ambulance, fire and police vehicles have trouble crossing from one side to the other, Dukart said.

The project is scheduled to be bid in April, City Engineer Craig Kubas said.

The Medicine Shoppe moved in 2013 to the building it shares with ABLE Inc. at the corner of State Avenue and Villard Street, with the intention of building a drive-through, owner Mike Ollerman said. Had it known the designs for the overpass would effectively end its drive-through business, it would not have purchased that building.

“We’re losing 100 percent of our south-bound traffic,” Ollerman said.

Representatives from The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy, Dickinson Ready Mix, UPS, Daily Perks, KXMA and residents affected by Option 5 spoke out at Monday’s hearing.

A decision was not made at Monday’s meeting.

“Obviously, it’s a difficult decision and one that we’ll take very seriously,” Jackson said.

In other business

— The commission approved a change to the liquor license ordinance to allow for extensions to the period between obtaining a license and opening per the approval of the commission. As a result, Coborn’s Inc., the parent company of Cash Wise, which plans to build a grocery store and liquor store in west Dickinson, requested an extension to Dec. 31. The motion was approved.

— Dickinson residents can expect a rise in fees for engineering and solid waste collection. Fees are increasing for select engineering permits, including excavation permits and re-inspections. For solid-waste pickup, fees for single-family homes will increase, as will duplexes and triplexes. Commercial rates will increase for items placed next to bins.

— The commission agreed to forego the bid process on the Dickinson Fire Department’s next fire truck. An opportunity arose to purchase a multi-use truck that Sutphen Fire Apparatus is building as a demonstration model for $670,000 — $20,000 more than budgeted. The truck will be ready in May, where a truck going through the bid process could take up to 15 months to be delivered, Fire Chief Bob Sivak said.