“When Main Street is a State Highway” was published in 2001 by the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) as a handbook for communities and designers for “blending function beauty and identity.”
It was the first of many pavement-busting efforts to resolve the seemingly conflicting goals of generating downtown vitality and meeting the demands of traffic safety. A key concept of this handbook has become fairly commonplace over the past 17 years. A holistic consideration for land use, transportation, and economic development results in a complete street that serves multiple functions.
Highway 83 runs from North Texas straight through to North Dakota. Valentine, Nebraska sits somewhere in the upper middle, the closest neighbor the Rosebud Lakota Sioux reservation, where Highway 83 runs right through Main Street. Valentine is lucky. The looming façade to façade reconstruction of Main Street by Nebraska Department of Transportation is a cause for celebration. It’s an opportunity to reconstruct a main street that can both reenergize local retail, and give a leg up to local entrepreneurs and "ruralennials" who are responsible for opening the newest and most eclectic businesses Cherry County has seen in over a generation.
Valentine looked to the CIRD program for assistance to ensure that the city benefits from the struggles and lessons learned by small towns and rural communities working with their State DOTs over the past 17+ years. The local community also sought assistance in navigating and facillitating relationships between the City, Main Street businesses, and the Nebraska Department of Transportation; before, during, and after the roadway reconstruction.
The questions and challenges explored in the workshop included:
The Resource team members had all lots of great ideas to share: Josh Bloom of the Clue Group shared the Iowa Main Street’s Surviving Road Construction “Survival Guide for Businesses.” Emiko Atherton of Smart Growth America, Director of the National Complete Streets coalition shared a video from Alexandria, MN - a stirring documentary of the before, during, and after transformation of this small town main street and commitment of all concerned to work hand in hand to see it through. Jim Leggitt, an architect, urban planner, author, and professional illustrator produced dozens of sketches showing potential makeovers of Main Street businesses with ideas for façade upgrades, new signage, and second floor retail and residential spaces; based on work he’s done in downtowns for the past 45 years. He worked with Kim Wilson, a professor of landscape architecture at University of Nebraska - Lincoln to craft a series of street redesign options and cross sections to bridge the gap between community desire, traffic engineering, and design.
The response from the NDOT was overwhelmingly positive. They were extremely appreciative of the City for taking the lead (as per Maryland’s SHA advice) to produce “participation by all the parties in a combined effort to achieve a result satisfactory for all,” something NDOT understands is absolutely vital to the success of any road project but currently lacks the internal expertise to carry out.
Construction is slated to start in 2021, and there was concern among the local team that the community will lose interest or suffer from planning fatigue. However, rather than a problem, the timeline provides a generous window to implement significant short-term and temporary interventions along Main Street; such as parklets, temporary bump outs, and moveable planters that can help mitigate lingering community concerns about these issues in the long-term. Temporary interventions and on-site demonstrations address the issue of planning fatigue, while also bringing the community together to engage in a different way. The community can learn more about what’s possible in a low-stakes manner, and business owners can work toward developing a long-term Main Street organization that can launch with the completion of reconstruction.
To borrow a quote from the Maryland State Highway handbook: “It is a great time to be in the “road business!” Nebraska’s communities, engineers, and designers have never had a better opportunity to develop excellent roadway improvement projects as they do right now. The CIRD workshop helped catalyze many new ideas and conversations to drive Valentine's Main Street reconstruction!