- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Five decades ago, Aberdeen was taking steps to accommodate a growing stretch of development.

It didn’t reach as far east as it does now, and the diversity of businesses was somewhat different, but officials were setting the stage for expansion along Sixth Avenue.

Between the two rail lines crossing Sixth — one at South Fifth Street and one at South Lloyd Street — was a two-lane street officials wanted to see expanded to four lanes. Fifty years ago this week, Aberdeen residents saw the completion of that construction project. In addition to it adding two lanes of traffic, it included overhanging stop lights.

According to articles from the American News, officials started talking about expanding the street as early as 1960, if not before. As the city project was completed, state officials started working on U.S. Highway 12 improvements east to Bath and a U.S. Highway 12 relocation project west past Mina Lake. The road used to be a mile north of where it now lies.

Driving down Sixth Avenue Southeast now, it’s easy to pick out the new businesses that have developed in the last few years. But rewind 50 years, and much of the land on the eastern stretch of the avenue was undeveloped.

Kevin Payne has lived in Aberdeen since 1980. It was a time when Sixth Avenue South was already a main route for travelers. No one referred to U.S. Highway 12, he said. It was Sixth Avenue.

Payne recalls the fill material hauled in to build Lakewood Mall, the Bump-N-Tilt arcade behind the Super 8 at the intersection of Sixth and Roosevelt Street and numerous VHS rental stores.

“Everyone was selling VHS tapes,” Payne said. “There was one of those on ever corner.”

More than anything, he recalls changes. Stores remodeled, moved or replaced their buildings. Other stores closed, with new new businesses soon filling their voids.

Terry Larson, present owner of Hitch’N Post Western Wear, said such development is, “part of the maturation of the town.”

Larson has watched the changes over the past 40 years. He said that when John Pagones, the original owner of the Hitch’N Post, opened the shop, it used to be the last retail store on the east end of Aberdeen.

“People thought he was crazy for getting a lot this far out,” Larson said.

Traffic has definitely increased, sometimes causing issues for those leaving the Hitch’n Post and wanting to turn left, Larson said.

Public Works Director Robin Bobzien said as Aberdeen has grown, so has Sixth Avenue. That’s reflected in the amount of traffic along the stretch.

About 10,000 more vehicles drive down Sixth Avenue a day than did just 20 years ago, Bobzien said. That’s an increase of about 50 percent. According to Aberdeen’s Transportation Plan, daily traffic counts in 2012 at Sixth Avenue Southeast and South Dakota Street were close to 30,000 vehicles, and traffic volume is projected to increase to nearly 37,000 by 2032.

“Had it not gone to the five-lane configuration that we currently have, we wouldn’t be able to handle the traffic or be as safe,” he said.

That five-lane conversion took place over time, starting in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Today, Bobzien said, the biggest challenge is providing adequate timing with the traffic signals. That’s because of the combination of semis and cars that use the street. Both accelerate at different rates, he said, which presents a challenge for traffic flow.

Bobzien said there is an adaptive system that can be installed in traffic lights that is designed to change their timing based on data collected by system computers. None of the lights are presently equipped with the technology, he said, but that technology is coming.

Today, he said, traffic studies are a requirement for any new development. The Shoppes on 7th strip mall is a prime example. Bobzien said the result of a traffic study in that area showed the need for a right turn lane to access the shopping center before the traffic light at the Lamont Street intersection.

Sixth Avenue isn’t the only street in town that has seen more development through the years. Bobzien noted several spots on Eighth Avenue. It’s a stretch that sees an ever-growing number of vehicles, but presently has less than one-third the traffic of Sixth Avenue. Traffic count numbers at the Dakota Street intersection are showed about 8,700 vehicles per day in 2012.

“It’s not near the volumes we have on Sixth Avenue,” he said. “It’s a good 50 percent increase.”

Follow @ElisaSand_aanon Twitter.

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(c)2015 the American News (Aberdeen, S.D.)

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