By Ernie Over, managing editor, county10.com
(Riverton, Wyo.) – Before a packed city hall council chambers nine members of the public made a comment in person on what they would like to see done to North Federal Boulevard when it is reconstructed in 2014-15. The majority of the speakers, six, favored some kind of improvements along the route as long as lighting and visibility concerns could be addressed.
There was general agreement that the Main Street theme could be extended for at least two blocks north of City Park, but then opinions began to vary on the length and scope of such amenities as decorative lighting, trees and park benches.
Two of the speakers were opposed to any but basic sidewalks and overhead lights and one wanted to know construction plans as soon as possible so he could adjust the national advertising he does for his RV Park.
Those were the comments from the audience. The council was also presented with comments solicited on County10.com’s Facebook page. City Public Works Director Bill Urgibkit said in an attempt to reach out to as many people as possible, the citiy’s media partners were asked to promote the meeting and the social media approach through County 10 was used for the first time. The question, which was posted on Sunday, generated 56 comments through Monday evening, 29 of which were specific about North Federal, with others concerning public intoxication issues. Of the 29 comments, Urbigkit said 12 were supportive of enhancements, 10 were opposed or wanted to see minimal amenities and seven commented on issues such as stoplights and snow removal.
Urbigkit also included in the record comments that were sent or phoned to City Hall, all of which recommended wider sidewalks for bicycle and handicapped accessibility, and amenities such trees or shrubs.
Engineering consultant James Gores said WYDOT would pay for the $9.1 million project for the street reconstruction, curbs, gutters and sidewalks, but that any additional enhancements would be the responsibility of the city.
The council indicted it would take all of the comments under consideration and discuss the issue further at next Tuesday evening’s council work session at City Hall.
Among those speaking Tuesday night:
Joe Pepper, Wind River RV Park, said his business would definitely be impacted by the construction. He wanted to know specific plans on how the construction would be mitigated as to traffic flow, so he could adjust his national marketing and adjust his operating budget accordingly. Pepper said he favored extending the Main Street improvements for two blocks beyond each end of City Park.
Alan Moore, IDEA Inc., said the city has only one opportunity to make a first impression, and he said the city has a chance with this project to make Riverton “just a little bit better.” He suggested making the town “feel open and welcoming and make (travelers) want to stop.” He suggested the North Federal improvements could build the city’s brand rather than leave the impression of “an industrial backwater.” Moore said to make travelers want to stop “and leave their cash, it takes a little flash. Let’s do it right.”
Larry Wallace, a city resident for the past eight years, said a Chamber of Commerce video about the city attracted him, but he noticed the lack of trees along Federal Boulevard. “Any attractive city has beautiful trees along its roadway areas, it’s visually attractive and provides shade in summer for pedestrians. He suggested that the street could be made “more pedestrian friendly.”
Mike Bailey, a property and business owner on both North and South Federal, said he was in favor of improvements “on a limited basis with lights and occasional trees.” He said his businesses were dependent on the traveling public and he said he hoped the project could be done in as short a time as possible. He also suggested improvements for the intersection at Sunset and North Federal, which he said was the most dangerous pedestrian intersection in town. He also suggested the city look for other possible funding sources to finance the enhancements.
Bob Lynch, a business owner who operates large tractor-trailer combinations, suggested that any trees added along the route, especially close to intersections, be set back an adequate distance to give truck drivers needed visibility. He also suggested the approaches to the large retail stores at the north end of the project be redesigned for better access. Lynch said he was also concerned that decorative lighting would not provide sufficient illumination along the street.
Visor, the owner of the Riverton Sears store, suggested that the North Federal Improvements Committee report presented to the city council in January should be the last word on the project. That report rejected all enhancements with the exception of lighting, but then only the “cobra” style of LED white lights on tall poles with outlets established for special holiday or event lighting. He said decorative lights and trees would block views of the businesses, he was opposed to a wider sidewalk for a bike path and he called called park benches along the route a joke. “We (business owners) don’t want to pay for that. If people in town want it, they can pony up the cash for it,” he said. Visor also said no matter what is done to North Federal, “It won’t look like downtown, it’s an industrial and and retail district with huge parking lots and business setbacks.”
Lennie Kosirog from Porter’s Mountain View Supply said he already had a park in the front of his business, and he said he’d like to see the downtown improvements extended north of his business. “If I have to pay for it, I’m willing to do it,” he said.
Jason Howard, a member of the North Federal Committee that Visor referenced, said the group had unanimously rejected sidewalk coloration, refuse barrels or benches and an irrigation system for future landscaping, for expense and visibility reasons. However, he suggested the downtown improvements could be extended for several blocks on each side of the park, “for balance and congruency.”
City Administrator Steven Weaver was asked for his personal opinion, and he said that he’d like to see decorative lights and trees. “We have one shot here and if we don’t take it then nothing will happen for another 50 years. If that is what you’d like, that’s fine, but I envision more for Riverton.”
Mayor Ron Warpness said he thought it would be “foolish” not to put in an irrigation system now, otherwise street and curb cuts would be necessary down the road if landscaping were added later. Addressing Visor and Howard’s comments, Warpness said there wasn’t a conspiracy in place, but he said the composition of the North Federal Committee ended up being mostly business owners along the route, and he said he thought the residents of the entire town should have an opportunity to comment, since they also drive and patronize businesses along North Federal. “We’re trying to get the most bang for the buck and have our community be the best that it can within our budget.”
Jerry Manzanares, a 35-year resident of the city, suggested that if amenities were needed, “the businesses would have already done it. Don’t you think those businesses want it attractive in front of their properties?”
Visor made one additional comment, saying that no amount of lights or trees would change the industrial nature of North Federal.