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Road diet: Jamestown explores reducing lanes in downtown

Currently, there are two lanes of traffic in each direction of First Avenue, commonly known as Main Street, in Jamestown. A possible project would reduce the traffic to one lane in each direction with a center turning lane. The project is part of an effort to improve the downtown area and boost development. John M. Steiner / The Sun

The new year will bring a new diet to Jamestown. Travis Dillman, project engineer for Interstate Engineering, said the city will hold public meetings to discuss a “road diet” that may lead to the city shedding an unwanted driving lane in the downtown area.

“We’re trying to define the scope of what we’re looking at,” he said. “But the discussion is narrowing Main (First Avenue) from four lanes to three.”

The three lanes would be one northbound, one southbound and a center turning lane. Parking would remain parallel.

The plan could also look at 5th Street Northwest which is also currently four lanes and connects downtown to U.S. Highway 281 northbound from Jamestown. Possible plans for 5th Street include adding a bike lane.

Public input meetings will be scheduled in January to hear from Jamestown residents as well as downtown business people about the project that was part of the Land Use and Transportation Plan that was approved by the City Council in 2015.

“The first step is public input to decide what direction to go,” Dillman said. “Then we fine tune the (cost) numbers.”

Dates and times for those meetings have not been set.

Possible topics for the meetings include reducing the number of lanes, changes to traffic signals, adding bike lanes and improving the aesthetics of the area with benches and shrubs, Dillman said.

Preliminary cost estimates won’t be calculated until the project is better defined. Changing the number of lanes on the streets could be done by changing the painted stripes on the pavement and adding traffic signs at a small cost, Dillman said. Changing traffic signals could become the biggest part of the cost, if a decision is made to make those changes.

Jamestown Mayor Katie Andersen said the City Council has not discussed how to pay any matching funds required by the grant but could possibly place special assessments on the downtown area.

“The main goal is to provide an atmosphere for downtown development,” Andersen said. “We want to see more active transportation (bicycles and pedestrians) and slower traffic in the downtown as a catalyst to development.”

Safety could be another issue.

Dillman said the current lanes on First Avenue are narrower than a normal urban traffic lane which can cause problems especially if large trucks are moving through the downtown.

The “road diet” would widen the lanes giving travelers more space on the street.

The public meetings and the resulting plans will become part of an application for an Urban Road Grant, part of Gov. Doug Burgum’s Downtown Initiative, through the North Dakota Department of Transportation. That application has to be submitted by Feb. 23, with any construction taking place during 2019, Dillman said.

“We’re hoping this is not just a road diet, but an improvement to the downtown experience,” Andersen said.