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Crumbling Poet Streets in Billings could be rebuilt - KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

Crumbling Poet Streets in Billings could be rebuilt

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(At the corner of Highland Park Drive and Irving Place, in the Poet Streets neighborhood. Ed Kemmick/Last Best News)

BILLINGS - Mark Parker says a water-filled pothole on Woodland Drive in front of his house was so big that a pair of nesting mallards raised their young in it last spring.

So he, for one, is glad that the city is planning to rebuild all the streets in his neighborhood this year. The project, he said, “is a breath of fresh air.”

Most if not all of his neighbors seem to agree, which means that upgrades to the so-called Poet Streets neighborhood might finally win approval from the City Council, after multiple failed attempts dating back at least 20 years, reports Last Best News.

The work order for the project, with an estimated price tag of $1.37 million, goes before the council on Monday, Feb. 12, and if approved, the city will call for construction bids soon after.

City Engineer Debi Meling said at least five previous attempts by the city to bring improvement projects to the area foundered because they would have changed the character of the neighborhood too dramatically. This time, the city dropped its insistence on widening narrow streets and installing sidewalks.

Those concessions will save property owners lots of money and will not entail the removal of hedges, trees, fences and other improvements.

“That’s finally what tipped people over the edge,” said Teresa Otto, who lives at 2522 Irving Place and owns another house in the neighborhood where her mother lives. The changes in the project proposed for this year mean big savings for people like Otto.

One earlier proposal from the city would have cost the average property owner $15,000, Otto said. This year, the city estimates the average cost at $2,975. For Otto, the estimated assessment (the final cost is dependent on actual bid prices) is $2,005 for her house and $3,050 for her mother’s.

The Poet Streets neighborhood takes in Highland Park Drive, Longfellow Place, Irving Place, Whittier Place, Emerson Place, Raymond Place and Woodland Drive, all of them located in a rectangle of land north of Poly Drive and west of Virginia Lane.

Meling said the neighborhood began to be developed in the 1940s, and it is unclear why the streets were of such variable sizes, all of them narrower than standard city streets. In the neighborhood, streets are about 20 feet wide, while the city standard is 33 feet.

The lack of curbs and gutters meant the streets were subject to much more damage than streets with those improvements, and by the 1980s, Meling said, they were already deemed too far gone to be maintained by chip sealing. Since then, city crews could do little more than fill potholes.

(Mark Parker snapped a photo of a pair of mallards who, he says, raised their young in a pothole on Woodland Drive last spring.)
 

“These streets are in very, very poor condition, some of the worst in town,” Meling said.

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the city was still aggressively installing curbs, gutters and sidewalks, or replacing them where they were run down, citizens and their representatives on the council used to complain, on a fairly regular basis, that it was unfair to hit them with huge assessments while the “rich people” in the Poet Streets had none at all.

Starting about 10 years ago, Meling said, the city started allowing improvement projects more in line with community desires than with rigid engineering standards.

Early last year, Meling said, neighborhood residents were notified by letter of the city’s new plans, and they were invited to a meeting last July at First English Lutheran Church, followed up by numerous one-on-one meetings between neighbors and engineers.

Neighbors were told what they’d long wanted to hear: that street widths would remain what they are now, that the project wouldn’t include sidewalks or lights, and that only in stretches where they are necessary for drainage would there be standard curbs and gutters. Everywhere else, there would be 18-inch-wide “ribbon curbs,” basically flat expanses of concrete to protect the edge of the asphalt roadway.

The city intends to use $1,129,505 in gas tax funds to reconstruct the streets and neighbors will pay an estimated $241,000 in assessments for the curbs and gutters.

“I believe we now have a solution that everybody’s happy with,” Meling said. If there are any opponents, they will be able to speak at the public hearing preceding the vote on Monday.

Parker, the Woodland Drive resident, said he wasn’t aware of anyone who was opposed to the project, either.

“You’ve got to have a street that doesn’t look like Dresden,” he said.

Editor’s note: The Poet Streets neighborhood gets its name, presumably, from the “Places” there—Longfellow Place, Irving Place, Whittier Place, Emerson Place and Raymond Place.

But we are a bit confused. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and John Greenleaf Whittier were famous poets, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, now best known for his essays, was also a poet, but Washington Irving was not known for that genre at all. And we don’t even know who this Raymond fellow is. We await enlightenment.

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