Grand Forks leaders inched closer to a new Red River bridge Thursday evening after a meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization's executive policy board settled on five locations to study the possibility of a new bridge.

The MPO board voted 6-2, with members Gary Malm and Warren Strandell dissenting, to study the transit implications of adding a single new bridge at 17th Avenue South; 24th Avenue South; 32nd Avenue South; 47th Avenue South; and Merrifield Road. The results of those analyses, due back early next year, will help the MPO compile long-range planning documents for both Grand Forks' and East Grand Forks' future growth.

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"By October of next year, our plan document should be complete enough to inform people of whether we're planning for a bridge to be built within the next 25 years and at which location. It won't be until that time frame if (we know) it'll be in there or not," said Earl Haugen, the MPO's executive director.

The prospect of a new bridge has been a long-standing goal of city leaders, who foresee reduced traffic on the city's present bridges, all of which are clustered near the downtown Grand Forks area. That need has been highlighted in recent months by ongoing construction on Kennedy Bridge, which has constricted and at times choked off traffic on U.S. Highway 2.

A new bridge is still a distant prospect, though. MPO board member and City Engineer Al Grasser pointed out that federal funding for a new bridge is a significant hurdle.

"What we did tonight I don't think moves the needle much, but maybe a little," he said. "It starts generating data."