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MPO still considering new bridge sites

The Point Bridge between Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. Herald file photo

Local transportation leaders are looking at five locations for a fourth bridge over the Red River, which they likely won’t build for another 15 to 20 years.

Rather, residents might see the bridge toward the end of a five-year plan from the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), named so because the MPO updates it every five years, MPO director Earl Haugen said.

“It tells us what we should do in the next five to 10 years, with a look at the next 15 to 20 years,” Haugen added.

During a presentation Wednesday night, consultants from Kimley Horn showed five access points, including 17th Avenue South, Elks Drive, 47th Avenue South, 32nd Avenue South and Merrifield Road. The latter two were included in the last five-year plan, drafted in 2013.

“Grand Forks is bigger than East Grand Forks,” said Ken Vein, who serves on the MPO Executive Policy Board. “East Grand Forks is typically wanting to see something further North, while Grand Forks wants to see something more south.”

Vein, like Haugen, emphasized this is not a project for today or tomorrow. The goal right now, both men said, is to devise a plan the MPO can implement with funding.

Of an estimated $436 million the MPO has access to for transportation projects, Haugen said maintenance projects are more important than immediately building a fourth bridge.

Recently, the federal government has begun implementing “performance measures” MPOs across the county must follow, following a U.S. transportation law enacted in 2012. Under the rules, the MPOs come up with their own targets related to road reliability and pavement conditions, which the MPOs then have to meet.

For the most part, the local MPO’s data shows roads are pretty reliable in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.

“The data is saying we never really experience a delay” in average circumstances, Haugen said.

The MPO decided on most five-year plan projects based on the new performance measure rules, sticking to projects that will maintain road conditions.

In the next five years, big ticket projects include reconstructing the Washington Street Underpass in 2022 and reconstructing DeMers Avenue downtown next year, Haugen said. Within the next five to 10 years, the MPO also plans on updates at Point Bridge, the Columbia Road overpass and reconstruction of South Washington Street, he said.

“A mill and overlay doesn’t address all of the problems,” Haugen said, referring to the most recent Washington Street procedure.

In a survey the MPO conducted earlier this year, respondents agreed on average 30 percent of available funds should go toward maintaining current roads. Respondents agreed on average 29 percent should go toward a new bridge.

“The need has always been the same,” Haugen said.

Between 2010 and 2015, Point Bridge traffic had increased from approximately 5,000 vehicles a day to 7,500, he said.

“We’re still showing a trend line that says more people want to cross the river,” he said.

A fourth bridge will help accommodate an increase in usage, Haugen said.

“It leaves the three bridges as are, but takes use away from them,” he said.

Emily Allen

Allen joined the Grand Forks Herald to cover local government and politics May 2018. Call her at 701-780-1102, email her at eallen@gfherald.com or follow her on Twitter, @Emily_theHerald.

(701) 780-1102