BISMARCK, N.D. - With the 21/2-year wait on a lawsuit decision behind it, the Bismarck City Commission on Monday took less than 10 minutes to seek designs for a new Sixth Street parking ramp and a three-crossing quiet rail project.
At Commissioner Parrell Grossman’s request, the commission decided to ask Ulteig Engineering to resume design work it had nearly completed in 2010 for a parking ramp proposal at Sixth Street and Thayer Avenue. In 2010, its costs were estimated at $8 million.
If Ulteig doesn’t want to update the designs, staff are to seek other offers on the ramp project.
Grossman said the need for the parking ramp was critical.
“I think it has been exhaustedly studied. The Bismarck Parking Authority is still recommending that the city of Bismarck proceed with the parking ramp. I think it is time to do so,” he said. “I think the same is true with the quiet rail zone.”
“It’s time. It’s been time for three years to do this,” Mayor John Warford said of both projects. “We need to move on. This will take our downtown to the next level.”
Commissioners also approved applying for a special use permit for a future parking ramp.
In separate action, the commission asked staff to seek offers for design of infrastructure work to lower train whistle noise for the Third, Fifth and 12th street rail crossings. Under Grossman’s motion, staff would negotiate with BNSF Railway on what pedestrian and vehicle safety features are needed to decrease rail whistle noise in downtown Bismarck. The city last estimated the safety measures would cost $1.5 million.
Commissioner Brenda Smith said quiet rail would help with the need for downtown housing.
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“It’s been a long time coming, but it looks like it’s finally going to become a reality,” said Bismarck Parking Authority Chairman Jim Christianson of the parking ramp. “I don’t think there’s much work left to be done on the plans themselves. I would hope the city would be in a position to go out for bids this winter and maybe start this spring. The plans were 99 percent complete.”
Christianson expects the costs will need to be updated. Ramp construction is expected to take 15 months, he said.
The city commission suspended action on the parking ramp proposal and quiet rail after Curly Haugland sued the city over its TIF District in April 2010, claiming the city was illegally withholding tax funds from taxing entities.
Northeast District Judge Donovan Foughty threw out the lawsuit in February 2011, but Haugland appealed to the state Supreme Court in April 2011.
The state Supreme Court this summer upheld urban renewal districts, but sent part of the decision back to district court. In November, Foughty ruled that Bismarck was allowed to use remaining TIF funds to pay for the ramp and quiet rail. The 2011 Legislature mandated cities to have projects planned for a TIF district before they collect tax money for the district.
Commissioners also approved using TIF funds again for cleanup costs of Chancellor Square in the downtown area. They had been suspended when the original lawsuit was filed.
Kate Herzog, assistant director for the Downtowners Association, was pleased with Monday’s decisions.
“It means that we are moving forward on some things and maybe we can look at other things like a plaza space downtown and looking at more residential development — keep it going to the next level downtown,” Herzog said. “Quiet rail is great. It is really going to spur on residential development. It’s going to help the businesses that (the train noise) is a detriment to right now.”