The reconstruction of Medford’s Main Street, which has sparked controversy and opposition from area residents, may be delayed. But the City Council has six months to decide how — or whether — it wants to put the project on temporary hold.
The project, which has been the source of some tension between city officials and a handful of Main Street residents who disagree with certain elements of the proposed design, is scheduled to start in spring 2021.
Because Main Street is part of state Highway 45, the county will cover 75% of the cost on all state aid eligible items, with the remaining 25% (urban amenities like sidewalks, streetlights and the like) falling to the city. The total estimated project cost is currently $2.71 million, which includes soft costs such as engineering, administration, legal and bonding.
Several alternatives have been provided by City Engineer Joe Duncan with Bolton & Menk, but the City Council has yet to approve a final design. A public hearing on the feasibility report was schedule for April, but had to be rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The public hearing was rescheduled and held Wednesday afternoon, with resident asked to submit comments and questions, or phone in to comply with the state restrictions on gatherings of 10 or more.
During the public hearing, several residents asked the council consider delaying the project for a year or more due to the ongoing hardships related to the COVID-19 pandemic. John Anhorn, a Main Street resident and owner of Anhorn’s Gas and Tire, spoke passionately about how tearing Main Street apart next summer could be the end of Medford’s downtown.
“We have gone through a number of years of distress on our business community,” Anhorn said. “We lost several years during the Central Avenue project, and last summer was finally a good summer, but this summer will be a COVID summer. If the following summer is construction you will just be handcuffing us further financially.”
Anhorn said that the uncertainty of COVID-19 and related restrictions during the pandemic has changed the Main Street project. In the past, Anhorn was among those in the community concerned over the size of the project that included replacing the water main and adding sidewalks.
Other residents echoed Anhorn’s concerns, as well as several members of City Council. Council member Matt Dempsey said that he would like to see the project delayed a year or two because of the unknown effect the coronavirus will continue to have on the economy and individuals’ finances. Council member Marie Sexton agreed, but shared concerned over the county still sharing the expenses if the project was postponed.
“I feel that if we were to defer the project it could make it a little more palatable and financially feasible,” Sexton said. “I have never worked on a project before with so many people having so many issues with the plan and we clearly need to look at that, but with COVID nobody knows where this is all going.”
County Engineer Greg Ilkka told the council that if they choose to delay the project by a year or two that he would support holding the money until then, though ultimately it would be the Steele County Board of Commissioners final decision.
Mayor Lois Nelson proposed that any decision on the project — including the final design or whether or not the project will indeed take place in 2021 — be tabled for up to six months. The council approved the motion in a 4-1 vote, with the opposing vote coming from Council member Chad Langeslag.
Langeslag voted no, citing opposition to the project’s design.