What started out as a striping project turned into a lane reduction, also known as a "road diet," in a 4-1 vote in the Dickinson City Commission meeting, Tuesday.
Andrew Schrank from Highlands Engineering & Surveying, which was hired to put plans together for the striping, addressed the commission.
“We’re essentially looking at a reduction from four lanes to three lanes with the center lane being a two-way left turn lane," he said. "The section we’re looking at is State Ave. and 8th Street W., basically on State Avenue from the overpass down to the intersection with 8th Street and from 8th Street at the State Avenue intersection over to where it was reconstructed back in 2017 and 18.”
Since the road was going to be re-striped anyway and the city had had some concerns about the safety of the road, Highlands started considering a road diet.
"We looked at some of the history along that road, and there’s been fairly severe accidents throughout history on that road — vehicles leaving the road, head-on collisions, even recent deaths. The pavement marking today is in very poor condition and very little is left, so the road needs to be re-striped," said Schrank.
Shawn Flaherty, then assistant coach for the New England Tigers, was killed in a vehicular crash on South State Avenue after the vehicle he was in was struck by another vehicle that had crossed the center line.
Schrank said that a road diet tends to be a safer alternative than a four-lane road.
"It reduces many conflict points; it helps visibility because cars aren’t hidden behind other cars; it separates oncoming traffic, so instead of four feet between oncoming traffic, you now have a whole lane separating those cars, so it gives you some additional buffer and room and time to make decisions if you have to, if there’s a vehicle coming head-on or whatever it may be," he said.
Commissioner Carson Steiner asked the commission to look at the history of the road.
"We’ve had near-misses, and we’ve had misses, and we’ve had direct hits which have resulted in death. I think this is a better idea of going for the safety route … and if there’s an error, I’ll err on the side of safety," he said.
Commissioner Sarah Trustem asked about congestion on the route, particular following agricultural vehicles such as grain trucks, since there will no longer be a lane in which to pass.
“From the overpass to the 8th Street intersection is one mile. The speed limit on this road is currently 35," Schrank said. "If you get stuck behind somebody going 25 mph, that’s about 40 seconds longer to drive that mile. If you want to take the full route from the overpass to Highway 22 is about a mile and a half. If you were stuck behind a vehicle going 25, and the posted speed is 35, it takes an extra minute to travel this route.”
No one participated in the public hearing, but Trustem said she had asked citizens for their input prior to the meeting.
"I think it's really important to hear what people say, and I was really looking for something with substance, you know, what is your argument for keeping South States a four-lane? Most of it was convenience. They just said, 'Leave it alone. There's nothing wrong with it.' There wasn't really any arguments that really made me think differently about this project. I think Commissioner (Jason) Fridrich has said this before, we pay professionals to ... give us the best directives with the education and experience they have."
She said that even though she knew it was a fairly unpopular move, she favored following the recommendation and made a motion to approve it, which Carson Steiner seconded.
"Will they like it at first? No," Steiner said earlier in the meeting. "If they were against it, they’re going to say, ‘Oh, it’s terrible,’ but we know in the long run just from when we do things like this here, after awhile, you can’t find anyone who says, ‘That was a bad thing.’"
The motion was carried with only Mayor Scott Decker voting against it.