Grand Forks’ mayor is throwing a wrench into an agreed-upon plan to build a bridge between his city and East Grand Forks.

Mayor Mike Brown said he’ll veto any city spending measure that includes money for a “neighborhood” bridge over the Red River at 32nd Avenue South.

“You look at all those driveways on 32nd, and schools. That pretty well makes that not a good choice,” Brown told attendees at a meeting this week that was held to review a shared wastewater treatment system, to which a discussion about proposed bridge connections was added. Brown said he’d prefer a bridge at 47th Avenue, which is in a less developed part of town and was designed to be an arterial street.

That contradicts a long-term transportation plan Grand Forks leaders approved last winter, which includes the intent to build a new bridge at 32nd for relatively light traffic and another about a mile south of town at Merrifield Road to let trucks and agricultural traffic bypass the densest part of the two cities. Both would aim to relieve traffic congestion in a growing metropolitan area that’s been bouncing around the idea of another bridge since the late 1960s.

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But Brown said his city was “coerced” into voting for the latest transportation plan because it wanted the Merrifield Bridge. Beyond that, the city wouldn’t receive state and federal funding for the plan as a whole if it didn’t OK it as is, he said.

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The plan wasn’t approved unanimously, and several 32nd Avenue neighbors appeared at a public hearing to air safety concerns and question how well the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which developed the transportation plan, solicited their opinions -- or let them know about the proposal in the first place.

The MPO, a locally and federally funded transportation and planning agency, has suggested a bridge at 32nd on and off for years.

Beyond 32nd and Merrifield, staff studied and considered bridges at 17th Avenue, Elks Drive and 47th Avenue. A 2018 MPO analysis concludes that a 32nd Avenue river crossing would have the highest cost-to-benefit ratio of all the options the organization considered, a calculation that compares the presumed price tag for each bridge to estimated reductions in traffic congestion and trip lengths. Bridges at 47th and 17th would have the lowest cost-to-benefit ratio, the organization found.

“No matter where we have it, it’s going to be ‘not in my backyard,’” Grand Forks City Council member Ken Vein said on Monday, adding that a new inner-city bridge, wherever it's built, will create a “new normal” that will be accepted over time. “We have to try to figure out, from a citywide perspective, what’s in our best interest.”

Dana Sande, Grand Forks' City Council president who’s been vocally opposed to a bridge on 32nd, said the differences the MPO identified between that location and other proposed ones -- 17th Avenue, Elks Drive and 47th Avenue -- are marginal.

“We should, together, our communities and our councils, work towards finding a location where we have both the political will as well as the resources to put a bridge,” he said at the joint meeting. “I think there are lots of places where we could locate a bridge that may cost four times as much, but we can get public support for. I’d rather spend four times as much and put it in a place where people are going to be happy with it.”

Grand Forks’ long-term transportation plan has included a 32nd Avenue bridge for years, but Brown and some other Grand Forks officials said they didn’t expect it to become a priority.

That changed, Brown said, when officials in East Grand Forks started talking to Minnesota legislators about the 32nd Avenue bridge -- a baby step toward fulfilling the plan to which both cities had formally agreed -- and after East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander told the Herald in March that they’d have to “nail down” a corridor for a new neighborhood bridge in the next three to six months.

“It’s a problem of our own making,” Brown told the Herald. “Fifty years ago, they should have said a bridge here, a bridge here, a bridge here, but they didn’t. And so now we have established communities and neighborhoods with schools and driveways, which make these not good choices.”

The planning organization’s board is expected to consider approving a study of the 32nd Avenue bridge in late August.

“For our side, this bridge seems pretty simple: Pick a spot and we’ll build it,” said East Grand Forks City Council member Marc DeMers on Monday. “We understand that there’s political downside to the Grand Forks side.”

Should a bridge be constructed between Grand Forks and East Grand Forks at 32nd Avenue?

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  • Yes

    56%

  • No

    44%