PILOT EDITORIAL - Get with it on North Lake Ave.

Wednesday, February 21, 2001

The Iowa Department of Transportation should jump all over the city's proposal for a repair compromise on North Lake Avenue like a whitewall hits a crater-size pothole.

Enough is enough. The people of Storm Lake have been patient in awaiting a deal to get this road updated, but we've been jarred, rattled and misaligned right out of our benevolent feelings.

The DOT should be ashamed of the condition of this busy, highly visible business thoroughfare. Whether they like it or not, the state still owns North Lake, and it is responsible for it. We would hate to be the DOT executive when a car finally hits one of those horrid potholes and bounces into fast traffic in the adjacent narrow lane, or when a pedestrian or bicyclist gets hurt because cars are swerving to go around all of those potholes.

This could have been resolved a year ago, if the DOT had just agreed to take full repsonsibility for a project to resurface the road and then seen it through. The city and state were so close to a deal that would have repaired the road as the city wanted, and changed ownership to local hands as the state wants. It was foolish to let the negotiations fall apart for all of these months.

Now that the DOT has let the condition of the road deteriorate further, the costs of repair are likely to be much higher. The city is right in insisting that an overlay won't cut it anymore, the problems go deeper than the road surface. If the DOT goes through with its stated plan to the Pilot-Tribune to do nothing more than the usual temporary fills of potholes again this year, we can't imagine what that street will look like after another cycle of standing water, heavy traffic, and winter freezes and thaws.

Don't blame your local DOT guys - they are as embarrassed at the state of North Lake as any of us are. They haven't been given the tools to do anything about it except perpetually fill potholes with fixes they know won't hold. It is a waste of taxpayer money, and a shame.

Storm Lake has been patient, but when patience doesn't work, it is time to take the situation into our own hands.

We suggest that you write or call the DOT District Engineer's office in Sioux City and tell them - not ask them - to make the fair agreement that the city is proposing and get busy to totally replace the south half of the road and at least overlay the north half. Not five years from now, but this season. It isn't impossible. While, you are at it, contact the DOT Commissioner in Ames and let him know Storm Lake demands better than it has received.

At the same time, while they are pounding out details of the road work, the city and state can work cooperatively to address issues such as drainage, turning accesses, traffic control and visual appeal of the area. Let the project be a showcase of cooperation instead of a crumbling monument to stubborness.

We trust that with an agreement on rebuilding done, the city would be ready to accept ownership of North Lake, which is only right since it is no longer a highway but a city street.

We get this strange feeling that the DOT may have been letting the road go to pot, hoping to force the city's hand to take ownership in order to deal with growing concern. We hope that isn't the case. After all, in a long view, the sooner the DOT gets the road restores, the less it is likely to cost taxpayers. Eventually, even a new North Lake will need additional maintenance, plenty of snow removal and so on, and if the city is willing to cut a deal to take ownership, the state escapes those costs years down the road.

It doesn't have to take all this fuss to reach an agreement here. The DOT isn't arguing that a major project is needed, and the city isn't arguing that it should eventually take ownership of North Lake. The two sides are not so very far apart, and should have the same goal in mind - to provide a good, safe transportation corridor to the public at the most efficient price to taxpayers.

It can be done, and it can be done quick. It seems to us that the city has taken the first step. DOT, the pothole is now in your court.