Christopher Lockhart said the traffic -- and the trucks -- are a pain.
Lockhart lives on Reeves Drive, in Grand Forks’ Near Southside Historic District. Cars often barrel down the street heading to and from the nearby Point Bridge, he and his neighbors say, turning the otherwise peaceful street into a drag strip.
But Lockhart has a specific dislike for the trucks.
"It's not meant to handle commercial vehicles or big heavy vehicles that come down,” he said. “I don't think that people notice it. When cement trucks or any other equipment things drive down, it makes our houses shake, and it actually cracks the plaster and lath walls that have been in my house since the 1800s."
Lurking beneath that concern is bigger question: What if the city had another bridge crossing in the south end?
Right now, solutions on the table aren’t so drastic. Lockhart’s neighbor, Margaret Jackson, has been a leading figure in talks with the city on traffic, and their work is turning into an expected $28,000 in work to narrow Reeves Drive at problem points. Neighbors hope drivers will begin using main arteries to head through town -- and not their quiet street.
But a bridge could help make a difference, too.
“I think we do need another bridge,” Jackson said. “I know that a great deal, or most of this traffic, is people who are going from East Grand Forks to the south part of Grand Forks or from the south part of Grand Forks to East Grand Forks.”
The idea of a new south end bridge has been on leaders’ minds for decades. Roland Young, a local bridge advocate, wrote in a February Herald op-ed that the Kennedy Bridge was built in the years following a call for two more bridges in the area.
“But 54 years later, we still don't have that second bridge,” he wrote. “And now, the two- to three-year rehab of the Kennedy Bridge will be a wakeup call or even a day of reckoning for the Grand Cities.”
Young was referring to the roughly $20 million in work on the Kennedy Bridge that’s expected to disrupt traffic through late next year. During a three-day closure earlier this summer, traffic was backed up over the Sorlie Bridge as motorists took a detour, and three cars were involved in an accident.
Also this summer, Grand Forks City Council President Dana Sande called for both his city and East Grand Forks to pick a location for a new bridge. With Grand Forks growing ever-further south, it’s only going to get harder to place a bridge that’s far enough from the city’s homes for big trucks and traffic, but close enough to be useful for East Grand Forks.
“The sooner we have that conversation and figure out at least, in general, what we’re interested in doing, the better off we’re all going to be,” he said.
Earl Haugen is the executive director of the local Metropolitan Planning Organization, which sits at the center of the discussion. He said sites for new bridges have been in MPO plans for years at 32nd Avenue South and Merrifield Road and that City Councils on both sides of the river have reviewed those plans as recently as 2013.
Part of the construction holdup, Haugen said, is funding. A new bridge would cost more than $20 million, and the MPO is juggling not only the needs of existing infrastructure but also a long list of important projects that take precedence -- such as rebuilding the Washington Street underpass.
But a bridge project would be a big step forward for both sides of the river, he said, from shorter drive time to lower emissions.
Sande has said that he’s aware of the MPO planning documents, but said there’s no public support for a bridge at 32nd Avenue South.
“If it isn’t realistic, we had better pick a place that we say where the bridge is going to be, and let everyone know, so no one builds around it, and if anyone builds around it, they’re aware a bridge is going in,” Sande said.
MPO sites for a new bridge will be part of broader plans the MPO is drafting, Haugen said, as part of its regular plan update process. An early public meeting for input is set for 5-7 p.m. Aug. 30 at the Empire Arts Center.
East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander has previously spoken in favor of a bridge at Merrifield Road that would be installed before a 32nd Avenue South, to carry large trucks. A more northern bridge might have weight limits, he’s said, to limit commercial vehicles. David Murphy, the East Grand Forks city administrator, said the question of a bridge crossing is something the council would likely revisit.
In the meantime, Lockhart will keep watching the traffic breeze by. He has a number of friends who live in East Grand Forks who use Reeves Drive to get to the Point Bridge. A new bridge would likely help, he said.
“I guess I would certainly be surprised if it didn't,” he said.