Clarke Street, a quiet, tree-lined residential avenue through an old Helena neighborhood, shows its age.

The street with its cracks and character dates to 1921, the year the adhesive bandage — think Band-Aid — was invented. Clarke Street is also among a long list of failed city streets. It could be included in the coming fiscal year's budget for reconstruction.

The cost to rebuild Clarke Street and the others in Helena, plus adding ramps at intersections to meet federal accessibility requirements, exceeds $26 million. The overall price is contained in a 2016 memorandum to Randall Camp, the city's public works director.

Clarke Street is also among a handful of reconstruction projects slated for 2018, according to the memorandum from Phil Hauck, the assistant public works director. The cost of rebuilding Clarke Street between Harrison and Benton streets is projected to be $737,800.

Just as updated construction estimates will affect the Clarke Street cost, so will a proposed street reconstruction policy that will determine what work the city will do and what financial role it may have in sidewalks, which are the responsibility of property owners.

City commissioners could see the proposed policy within a couple of weeks or a month, City Manager Ron Alles said.

He also wants a decision so the Clarke Street reconstruction can be added to the budget for city spending between July 1 and June 30, 2018.

Rates for city assessments, such as the city’s street maintenance district, would  be adjusted for commission approval later this summer.

Design work is anticipated to begin this summer, but actual reconstruction is envisioned for next summer.

Late afternoon shadows draped the street as the passage of traffic marked those coming home from work.

“This is the first time that the city’s reconstructed a street that’s reached the end of its useful life,” said Hauck as he, other city staff and members of the city commission toured several blocks of Clarke Street.

Their walk might have taken but 10 minutes had they not stopped frequently to view and discuss problems.

All of the problems with a street reconstruction are consolidated into what Clarke Street presents, according to Alles.

Beneath aging pavement are old water and wastewater mains; concrete sidewalks are buckled and broken by tree roots; brick sidewalks don’t meet federal accessibility standards; new concrete sidewalks will be affected by street work; and fences, retaining walls and vegetation are all found in the city’s right-of-way.

Yet another issue is what work will intersecting side streets receive and how far along them will improvements be made.

While there are ample problems with sidewalks — slabs of concrete are pushed upward by tree roots and can trip pedestrians while brick sidewalks roll with the landscape — the city isn’t necessarily looking for property owners to initiate repairs during reconstruction of the street.

Repairing or replacing sidewalks doesn’t have to happen simultaneously with the street reconstruction, Hauck said.

Because reconstruction will limit residents’ ability to use the street for driving, walking will be difficult enough without the availability of sidewalks, he explained.

Once the street is rebuilt, attention could then be focused on sidewalks, Hauck added.

City Engineer Ryan Leland climbed up a hillside into a homeowner’s yard to illustrate the extent of the city’s right-of-way. If a sidewalk was required along this side street, a retaining wall would have to be installed, he said.

While the city likely wouldn’t require a sidewalk in this case, it would want to get the encroachment on record, Alles said.

Those walking the neighborhood paused as they walked to answer residents’ questions. People seemed pleased to hear that their street could be improved. A woman’s dog inside her fenced yard eyed the tour warily.

City staff has no illusions about what it will face should this project advance and people begin to realize what’s about to happen.

“It’s going to be a lot of discussions with people,” Leland said.


I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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