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Awaiting word

A plan to reduce the number of traffic lanes on First Avenue in Jamestown is awaiting a funding decision on a state grant. A similar project in Bismarck has been viewed a success by Bismarck's downtown association and city engineers. John M. Steiner / The Sun

The city of Jamestown could learn in June if a grant application for a project to reduce the number of traffic lanes through the downtown is approved, according to Travis Dillman, project engineer for Jamestown with Interstate Engineering.

The $3.1 million project includes upgrades to traffic signals and some aesthetic enhancements downtown. It also includes a reduction in traffic lanes on First Avenue. Referred to as a "lane diet" or "road diet," it would reduce the current four lanes to three with one lane in each direction and a center turning lane, he said.

A similar project done in Bismarck in 2016 is showing good results, according to Kate Herzog, chief operating officer of the Downtown Business Association of Bismarck.

"We had a stakeholders meeting to let people know about the project at the start of the test period," she said. "Halfway into the three-month test we polled the businesses and it was overwhelmingly positive."

Herzog said Bismarck initially repainted Main Avenue with the new lane configuration as an experiment. At the end of three months, the experiment was extended to determine how well the three-lane configuration worked through the winter. Bismarck recently made the three-lane main street permanent.

Gabe Schell, Bismarck city engineer, said the project was a success because of support from the downtown business community, and has slowed traffic and reduced accidents.

Schell said overall fewer crashes were reported. Crashes involving cars that were turning had the largest decrease with rear-end crashes increasing.

Herzog said the reduced traffic speeds have increased business in the downtown area. She points to an increase in commercial building permits in the area as proof businesses in the area are seeing growth. Bismarck issued about a total of 38 building permits in 2016 and 2017 when Main Avenue was a three-lane street. The city issued about 20 building permits for the same area in the previous two years.

The lane diet project also received mostly positive comments.

"Pedestrians liked it from the start," Herzog said. "It's easier to cross the street and the downtown is not so busy and loud anymore."

There were some negative comments, and people who just travel through the downtown area to get from one point to another do see increases in their travel time, Herzog said.

"People don't love change," she said, "but almost from the beginning most of it was positive."

Bismarck approached the project as an experiment, and Schell said that helped build public support.

Future plans for Bismarck could include synchronizing the traffic signals in the downtown and expanding the area of the lane diet, Schell said.

"This was just the first step," he said.

The Jamestown project, if it is fully funded by the grant, would attempt to make all the upgrades to the downtown traffic flow at once.

Dillman said the city of Jamestown applied for a $3.1 million Urban Road Grant for the downtown project that would include restriping the street, upgrading the traffic signals, extending the sidewalks the width of the parking lanes at the crosswalks and adding decorative benches and plantings to the area from 8th Street South to 5th Street Northwest. The project also includes reducing 5th Avenue Northeast from four lanes to three and adding a bike lane. The Urban Road Grant program is part of Gov. Doug Burgum's downtown initiative.

"How much we do is dependent on how much funding we get," Dillman said.

The grant would cover 80 percent of the final project with a 20 percent local match. The Jamestown City Council has not discussed sources for the 20 percent local match.