SANDPOINT - The City Council approved a plan Wednesday to convert Fifth Avenue to two-way operation between Cedar and Pine streets.
In a decision that will dramatically influence navigation through town, a majority of council members cleared the plan, with Councilman Bob Camp dissenting.
Suggested by Sandpoint officials as an alternative following the rejection of the U.S. 2 Curve connector project, the conversion is a step toward regaining control of First, Pine and Cedar from the Idaho Transportation Department. City officials believe control of these streets will be key to downtown development.
Changes to downtown streets include implementing two-way traffic on Fifth Avenue with a center turn lane, installing a traffic signal at the Fifth and Church intersection, removing the signal at Pine and Fifth and implementing two-way traffic on Church, Cedar and Pine between First and Fifth. It prohibits left turns from Fifth onto Pine. Public Works Director Kody Van Dyk said he anticipates vehicles will use Church Street to gain access to Pine Street.
In a memo to council members, Van Dyk said the plan is a compromise with ITD, but it should offer good mobility throughout downtown Sandpoint.
Before ITD can relinquish its controlled downtown streets to the city, the Independent Highway District will have to agree to receive the streets, Van Dyk said. The city has not yet contacted IHD officials regarding the matter, he added.
Camp questioned whether the plan should be passed that evening noted that online reactions ranged from skeptical to negative. Comments on previous news articles and on social media questioned the configuration's safety and effectiveness. On Wednesday, a Bonner County Daily Bee Internet poll showed 46.1 percent of voters opposed the plan, 32.6 percent favored the plan and 21.3 percent had no opinion out of 89 total votes.
Meeting attendees were largely in favor of the proposal despite some safety concerns about the intersection at Church and First and the ability to access City Beach. Business owner Steve Meyer believed the plan would improve business and pedestrian safety for shops along Cedar Street. Meanwhile, business owner Jeff Bond noted that two-way traffic had been a part of downtown planning sessions years in the making.
With council approval in hand, the city will seek to establish a memorandum of understanding with ITD to secure funding for the project. Last week, Mayor Carrie Logan requested $2.5 million from ITD to implement the plan. At the meeting, the transportation board's District 1 representative Jim Coleman said the city acknowledged that the reconfiguration may present some delays.
"Sandpoint fully understands there's going to be some delays in peak-hour traffic on their east-west traffic across Fifth Avenue with this change. Even then they said, 'We can live with it because, as we all know, people are going to find another way to get across town,'" said Coleman.