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Despite safety concerns, committee tables traffic change at First and Foster

Mitchell residents concerned with safety at the intersection of First Avenue and Foster Street will have to wait at least one month to know the fate of the much-maligned crossing.

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Mitchell residents concerned with safety at the intersection of First Avenue and Foster Street will have to wait at least one month to know the fate of the much-maligned crossing.

The Mitchell Traffic Commission unanimously decided to table a discussion to make First Avenue and Foster Street a four-way stop during its monthly meeting Monday at City Hall. The decision was made prior to the regular meeting of the City Council.

The discussion to change First and Foster from a two-way to four-way stop was made by a citizen who contacted Councilwoman Bev Robinson in August with safety concerns about the intersection. Currently, a stop sign sits on either side of Foster Street, but the Traffic Commission will consider other options in October or November. The request was tabled to allow for further studies once another major east-west corridor, at Fifth Avenue, is re-opened following construction.

Using data from a traffic study completed by the city of Mitchell, Chief of Public Safety and Traffic Commission Chairman Lyndon Overweg said the intersection would warrant a change, but not the change the concerned citizen sought.

"Basically, the results are indicating it does not warrant a four-way stop," Overweg said. "It would warrant, if you would so choose at this time, to change the direction of stopping the traffic from north-south to stopping east-west, because north-south is the primary (route)."

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With more traffic driving north-south on Foster, the stop signs could be switched to First Avenue. But, Councilman Steve Rice was hesitant to support the change.

"It seems like maybe you should change the stop signs, but I think that would be-I don't know if we can re-train drivers that well," Rice said.

According to the traffic study, more than 3,000 vehicles passed through the intersection from either side of Foster, while fewer than 2,000 vehicles approached the intersection from either direction of First over a 24-hour period.

The traffic study also indicated there were four intersection-related crashes at First and Foster since Oct. 2013. Overweg said a four-way stop would only be warranted if there had been five crashes over a 12-month period.

While the traffic study doesn't justify a four-way stop, one Mitchell resident who drives by the intersection regularly hopes to see two more stop signs added.

"In my opinion, it is an intersection that needs to keep being watched because there is potential for disaster at some point," said Nathan Hofer.

And Mayor Jerry Toomey agreed.

Toomey said he's received calls in support of a four-way stop, and he said he has seen a constant stream of traffic when passing through the intersection.

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Another supporter of a change was City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein, who said she uses the intersection several times per day.

Speaking as a Mitchell resident, not in her capacity as city administrator, Ellwein offered support for shifting the stop signs from Foster to First, which would fall in line with the data-driven suggestion from Overweg.

"I would assume that as the study shows it should be located in one area, you would take and go by the data, not by what we we think people are used to," Ellwein said.

If a change were made, Councilman Dan Allen said local drivers would need to be educated and made aware of the change.

"It would be a big learning curve," Allen said.

Overweg recommended adding flashing lights to the stop signs if they are moved.

Despite the tabling of the request, Toomey reminded the council of another safety-related traffic change made in Mitchell.

During the 2015 Corn Palace Festival, a woman and child were struck by a driver at the intersection of Third Avenue and Lawler Street. The intersection was later changed to a three-way stop, but not before the two pedestrians sustained serious injuries.

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Rather than react to a crash at First and Foster, Toomey suggested the proactive approach. Toomey then relayed comments from one resident who lives near the intersection.

"'I don't think it's a question of if it's going to happen, it's a question of when it's going to happen, and,' she said, 'Are we waiting for another Third and Lawler Street?' " Toomey said.

However, Overweg warned the council that an addition of an unwarranted four-way stop could have some unintended consequences.

Overweg suggested an unnecessary four-way stop could increase crash rates, and it could increase the speed of drivers trying to make up for lost time following an unwarranted stop.

"And the other thing, if a stop is not warranted, it can actually make people speed up more after the stop because it prevents traffic flow," Overweg said.

If the commission decides not to follow the guidelines laid out by the Federal Highway Administration's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices by agreeing to move the stop signs to First Avenue, City Attorney Justin Johnson said the city of Mitchell could be liable for a future crash.

"I can tell you that in my view, it kind of paints a target on the city by leaving it in contrast to what the guidelines suggest," Johnson said.

The Traffic Commission meets the third Monday of each month prior to the regular City Council meeting. It's next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 17.

In Monday's edition, The Daily Republic incorrectly identified Foster Street as Rowley Street.

Consent agenda

As part of the consent agenda, the council approved:

• Minutes from the Sept. 6 City Council and Sept. 22 Planning and Zoning Commission meetings.

• Various department reports for the months of July and August.

• A raffle request from the CASA program, with the drawing to be held on Oct. 21 and 22; Dakota Wesleyan University, with the drawing to be held on Nov. 4; and the Mitchell Area Safehouse Foundation, with the drawing to be held on March 25.

• Change order No. 1 to city project No. 2016-14C, a curb and gutter project contracted to Big O Concrete, increasing the contract amount by $771.50 for changes in concrete quantity for the project, adjusting the contract to $24,539.50.

• Diesel fuel competitive quotations.

• Pay estimates, which include an additional $110,000 to MSH Architects, the project designers for the $8 million city aquatic center. According to the pay estimates document for Sept. 19, the city has paid MSH Architects $262,928.19 of its $590,000 contract.

• Bills, payroll, salary adjustments, new employee hires and authorize payment of recurring and other expenses in advance as approved by the finance officer.

Other business

In other business, the council:

• Conducted a Traffic Commission meeting at 6:30 p.m. The Traffic Commission approved a street closure for the Corn Palace Challenge Bull Ride from Oct. 19 to Oct. 24. The request will close the east portion of the CIty Hall parking lot from 5 a.m. on Oct. 19 to 5 p.m. on Oct. 24. The request also established a full closure of the City Hall parking lot from 7 a.m. on Oct. 21 to 7 a.m. on Oct. 23. A third request will close the 600 Block of N. Main St. from 7 a.m. on Oct. 21 to 7 a.m. on Oct. 23.

• The Traffic Commission approved a request to amend a special event permit from the OutKasts Car Club. The request will add the 100 Block of S. Main St. to the list of closures for the car show.

• The Traffic Commission also approved two temporary bus loading parking spots at Firesteel Healthcare.

• Called the City Council meeting to order, conducted the Pledge of Allegiance, heard an invocation from New Home Lutheran and St. Mary's Episcopal and conducted roll call. Councilman Jeff Smith was not in attendance.

• Heard from Overweg during citizen input, who informed the council the veterans park project on the corner of First Avenue and Main Street has received $130,000 in pledges and $43,000 in cash.

• During citizen input, heard from Mitchell resident Dan Ware, who is seeking larger, covered recycling bins for city residents.

• Approved the committee report from the Traffic Commission.

• Held a hearing and approved the application of OverTime Steakhouse & Sports Bar for a special event liquor license located at the OverTime Event Center, 812 N. Rowley St., on Oct. 1 for a wedding.

• Approved four applications from the Mitchell Elks Lodge for special event liquor licenses at the Masonic Lodge on 112 E. Fifth Ave. for an Oct. 1 wedding, an Oct. 6 Shrine Sportsman Fundraiser, an Oct. 8 wedding and an Oct. 29 wedding.

• Recessed as City Council and met as the Board of Adjustment to approve the application of Shane Snyder, who has applied for a backyard variance of 2 feet versus 25 feed and a side yard variance of 2 feet versus 3 feet for construction of two attached garages to his property at 503 N. Duff St.

• Held a hearing and approved a moving permit for Van Laecken Properties, which is request moving a residence currently located at 25175 Campground Rd. to the 2500 Block of Anthony Ave.

• Approved Resolution No. 3381, a plat of Lot 12 and 13 in the replat of Tract A or Wild Oak Golf Club Addition.

• Approved Resolution No. 3382, a plat of portions of Blocks 2, 3, 7, 8 and 9 of CJM Second Addition and portions of Michael Avenue, Livesay Lane and Jamaica Street.

• Approved Resolution No. 3383, a plat of Lot 8, Block 2 of the CJM Second Addition.

• Approved Resolution No. 3384, a plat of Lot X-1, Square 19, a subdivision of Lot X Square 19 and the west half of vacated South Lawler Street.

• Held the second reading and approved Ordinance No. 2551-2017 for annual appropriations.

• Entered an executive session to prepare for contract negotiations or negotiating with employees or employee representatives. No action was taken following the session.

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