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Aberdeen City Council Candidates on What Hub City Needs to Fix

Tom Black occasionally hosts what he calls the Aberdeen City Council Observer on Facebook. He’s working through a series of questions with incumbent SE district candidate Laure Swanson and her challenger (me!). Black published personal introductions from Swanson and from me last Friday. Here are our responses to Black’s first policy question, “Name one thing that you believe the city is doing wrong right now that can be changed or improved in 2016.”

Swanson: One thing I would like to see done differently would be to operate the enterprise funds on a fee for service basis. We are now using the capital improvement fund, which in turn takes away from our street funds.

Water rates are not keeping up with cost of service. We are taking money from the Special Sales Tax to pay for water, sanitary sewer, and storm sewer. On top of that, we are taking funds out of SST to pay for the debt instrument required for the intake work at the treatment plant and the Kline Street project. As well as other road projects.

Heidelberger: “One thing the city is doing wrong?” Replace “wrong” with “not enough,” and we may describe what the city is doing in terms of transportation.

We have streets like Goodrich and cross streets between my place and Ken’s that look (and ride!) as if they’ve been bombed. We need to review our road funding and maintenance schedule to make sure every neighborhood’s roads are kept in good shape. We need to make sure we aren’t overstretching to build new streets out to new development and the expense of existing neighborhood streets.

We have numerous streets with no accommodation for pedestrians. 6th Avenue/Highway 12 east offers no sidewalk for folks on foot to access the many businesses and services there. 6th Ave from Lawson to Roosevelt (the portion of 12 with the highest traffic count in the city) offers no controlled crosswalks, meaning folks in my neighborhood who want to walk to K-Mart, Little Caesar’s, Wendy’s, or CorTrust Bank must either walk far out of their way or run for their lives through a gap in traffic. (The absence of traffic lights along that stretch also makes driving into Ken’s difficult, if not dangerous.) The same is true on Melgaard Ave, where folks on foot hoping to cross during the morning and afternoon school rushes had better pray for wings. Numerous side streets have intermittent sidewalks, creating the unsafe situation of conscientious walkers stepping in and out of the street, or no sidewalks at all. Within city limits, citizens should be able to reach any location on foot as safely as they can by car. Sidewalks, crosswalks, and pedestrian controls can provide that safety.

We have great bike trails, especially the off-street trails in the southeast (along the Mog) and the northeast (from Browne to Baird). The city should improve the street crossings for safety (think bike/foot overpass over Highway 12… or a tunnel?), extend the Mog trail south past the community gardens, and look for a way to join those two paths I mentioned to create a contiguous off-street corridor from one end of the city to the other.

We have numerous traffic flow problems throughout Aberdeen. Two of the worst:

—Too many trucks (double trailers, wind turbine blades!) run through town on Highway 12. Aberdeen needs to revisit the Highway 12 bypass idea and get the state to spend some of the dollars from its new gas tax on easing traffic flow around Aberdeen.

—Flow out of the Target/Dakota Event Center area on Lamont is a zoo. Engineers need to review traffic counts and traffic light timing and consider adding a light along 12 between Target and Walmart.

Top-notch transportation is essential for safety and commerce. Money’s always tight, but we can’t afford to have unsafe conditions for drivers, cyclists, and walkers [Aberdeen City Council Observer, 2015.05.12].

Yes, I went long (there are a lot of potholes to fill!). Other than that, what do you think? We’re both talking basic city infrastructure; are we on the right track?


  1. grudznick 2015-05-12 18:22

    What is this Mog of which you spoke? It sounds like the kind of thing that the city of Aberdeen should be using its limited tax dollars to fill in and squelch the mosquito menace that is sure to come this summer.

  2. Nick Nemec 2015-05-12 20:22

    I think you both have good ideas. Ms. Swanson’s comment that water and sewer departments should pay for themselves is reasonable, and if they do that leaves more property tax dollars to fix streets.

  3. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-05-12 21:26

    Cory, I’m surprised and pleased at how quickly you’ve become familiar with Aberdeen. Good for you.

    Grudz, the Mog is Moccasin Creek, which runs through Aberdeen. It’s been called the Mog since at the 1960s.

  4. John 2015-05-12 21:30

    Doubtless my second hometown has self-inflicted vehicle and pediestrian traffic flow problems, yet think thrice before declaring a bypass is any sort of a stand alone answer. Look around the state and region at “bypasses” meant to solve problems. Within years the bypass became “the bottleneck” and yet another was created. Rinse, repeat. What is the source of this human folly? Greed. Lack of self discipline. As the typical bypass is bid and contracts let, the planning and zoning, real estate, developer, and traffic control (as in s l o w d o w n) council/commission industrial complex slice and dice adjoining properties, bid up values, add the latest petrol / fast food / big box / traffic control (s l o w i n g) devices, approaches, time sapping left turn lanes, etc. A bypass lacking draconian zoning disciple, lacking community self control is nothing more than subsidized growth solving nothing and merely creating another bottleneck, often while sapping economic vibrancy from the area “bypassed”. What a country!

    Instead try developing side streets as the local thoroughfares, giving the highway back, in part, to through travelers, bar left turns, minimize traffic control (s l o w i n g) devices, though since the highway doubles as a pseudo city main street it merits speeds far lower than those found outside the city. Consider bridging it for local traffic – it works well on the 281 and in town rail bypasses.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-12 22:21

    Nick, I agree: Swanson’s suggestion is good wonky finance stuff, the kind of technical thinking that keeps city budgets in order. That has to go hand in hand with on-the-streets thinking.

    John, I do wonder if the suggestion of a bypass would draw opposition from everyone along US 12 through town and even the downtown association whose jurisdiction abuts our crowded highway… and if we built a bypass, whether we’d see business drain further away from that strip to the new road-edge of town.

    We do see some of that side-street diversion you recommend. My wife and I already look for excuses to detour up to 3rd Ave South or 8th Ave North to get to the west side of town. I’d be curious to see traffic counts for those side streets. Perhaps interestingly, I don’t see similar congestion happening on north-south streets. 281 has a bypass, relieving some of the through traffic… but then there’s not nearly as much traffic on 281 as on 12 (see Brown County 2012 Master Transportation Plan, pp. 14–15, Figures 9 and 10). Dakota St. never seems as nuts… but looking at the map, it occurs to me that between 281 on the west and Roosevelt/County Rd 12 on the east, there is no street that you can take both ways as a straight shot all the way north-south from 24th Ave/Fairgrounds Rd down to Melgaard Road.

    John, dare we build overpasses for US 12 through town? Would that engineering disrupt business and housing too much? Dare we think of making US 12 an elevated freeway, with exits at Roosevelt, Dakota, and 2nd St? (I suspect all of Laure’s budget reforms would not come close to funding a project of that scale.)

  6. scott 2015-05-12 22:52

    Aberdeen’s biggest problem is it infrastructure (water, sewer and streets). Too many special interest groups want their pet projects and no one says NO.

    Parks & Rec’s has too much control of how the city is run and spends way too much money on items that get minimal use. Heard they wanted to install air conditioning in the 80 year old, and very little used, Civic Arena Theatre. I understand some people of “influence” wanted this so they are getting their wish.

    Lots of area farmers and ranchers are tired of Aberdeen issues and are going elsewhere to purchase supplies. Heard Pierre had over a 5% increase in sales tax revenue in 2014 while Aberdeen had less than a 1% growth in sales tax revenue, so there must be some truth to people going elsewhere to make purchases.

    If the city improved its city streets, city residents would not need to drive the state highway through the city as much. That would help with some of the traffic problems on the state highway through Aberdeen. I talk with many people who will not pull off the state highway in Aberdeen because of the issues getting back on the highway. That is lost revenue for businesses and tax revenue for the city.

    Corey, somebody new to the city would be great to help lead the city. A new city resident will ask questions and see things from a prospective long time residents do not see. As a newcomer to the city I suspect you see many issues that need to be corrected that long time residents have put up with for so long they do not even notice anymore.

  7. grudznick 2015-05-12 23:16

    Thank you, Ms. Geelsdottir. You show a reasonable amount of Aberdonian knowledge for a Minnesootan, which I’m sure stems from your Henry time. It is good also that Mr. H, an Aberdonian for only a few months, has already picked up on these localisms and such. It shows that Aberdeen is a strong, South Dakota community, and people who move there invest deeply in the local culture.

  8. grudznick 2015-05-12 23:32

    Mog. I like it.

    It still should be filled in to stop the mosquito infestation that is sure to come.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-13 06:14

    Scott, how on earth can Parks and Rec control how the city is run? Don’t they answer to the city council?

    Wow—if we’re losing business to Pierre, we’ve got a problem. I agree completely that good roads are a vital part of economic development. Our roads make our first impression: if your first experience in Aberdeen is bouncing around on potholes, you’re going to remember Aberdeen less positively.

    Scott, are there other issues besides roads that are pushing farmers and ranchers away from Aberdeen for their supply-shopping?

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-13 07:03

    Grudz—you’re right: today’s spring showers are tomorrow night’s mosquito habitat.

  11. Mary 2015-05-13 21:48

    I work in the ag field in Aberdeen. We hear lots of complaints about the streets in Aberdeen. You have to understand the farmers and ranchers come to Aberdeen with heavy duty pickups and they pull large trailers. I had a farmer the other day say he would like to go to city hall and get everybody their and put them in the back of his trailer and then drive them across town on 8th ave. In his words “Maybe that would wake somebody up and they would at least fix 8th ave.”

    The newspaper had a series recent about how Aberdeen is doing. The series mentioned the importance of health care to the economy. I hear a lot of people say if it was not for medical services in Aberdeen, they would go elsewhere for shopping. Cities like Watertown, Huron, and Pierre have some of the same shopping opportunities as Aberdeen.

    I do not understand why Aberdeen does not improve streets in the NW part of the city. The city has developed Wylie Park to be a big draw, yet the streets connecting the city to the actual park look like some roads you would expect to see around an abandoned military base. There are so many other business draws in this part of town that generate a lot of trips to Aberdeen, yet the streets are terrible. With large car dealerships, medical facilities and Wylie Park, you would think the city would keep this part of town immaculate.

    Another area of town that I do not understand why the streets are so poorly kept is around the new hospital, Mall and 7th Ave around Target and Wal-Mart. Again this is a part of town that generates lots of revenue to the city and I can not understand why this area is not also kept immaculate. If people have a pleasant experience when the come to Aberdeen they will return, however if the experience is bad, people will go elsewhere.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-14 07:06

    I’m with you, Mary. Something in our financing and engineering isn’t connecting. Are we just not generating enough revenue from sales tax to cover all our road costs? Have we spread out too far to be able to maintain all of our streets? Curious… do we spend less on our streets per mile than other towns our size?

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