Grand Forks residents living along 32nd Avenue South say they're disappointed after council members adopted a recommendation for a bridge on that street.
Neighbors called the proposal impractical and cited safety concerns and increased traffic. They also accused transportation officials of favoring East Grand Forks' needs and said leaders lacked transparency.
"Let's be honest-we get more information about a street closure on my street for a one-day marathon than we get information about a possible bridge that will be going in my backyard," said Mark Pryor, a resident of East Elmwood Drive near the proposed bridge site. "That's concerning."
The local Metropolitan Planning Organization has spent the last year working on a federally required update to its 2045 Long Range Transportation plan, which forecasts available funding and necessary projects in the coming years. Since the early 2000s that plan has included designating a location for a new bridge over the Red River to help alleviate traffic in neighborhoods near the Point, Sorlie and Kennedy Bridges.
The MPO hired a consultant to research five locations this year, including 32nd Avenue South and Merrifield Road, recommendations the council has previously agreed with, along with 47th Avenue South, 17th Avenue South and Elks Drive.
"Let's face it, the council voted on (32nd Avenue South) in 2003, they voted again on it in 2008, they voted on it in 2013 and this is the fourth vote to have it at that location. This is nothing new," said Ken Vein, council vice president and chair of the MPO's Executive Policy Board.
The MPO collected around 700 responses from Grand Forks and East Grand Forks residents, director Earl Haugen said. Many of those responses, Haugen said, are available on the organization's website in an interactive map.
"The other (responses) aren't quite as easily assembled in one spot right now," Haugen said.
The MPO, he added, doesn't distinguish Grand Forks replies from East Grand Forks replies. Pryor and Council President Dana Sande said on Monday the plan benefits East Grand Forks residents more.
"Well, we're five times as big as East Grand Forks, correct?" Pryor said. "Is it going to be a 50-50 split on what determination we make? If it is a 50-50 split, then what? Every resident of Grand Forks is only 20 percent of a resident in East Grand Forks?"
Haugen told council members his group used social media and the city's website to gather responses and advertise meetings. The organization also hired consultants from Kimley-Horn to consider public input and empirically gathered data on which locations were the best, regarding cost and benefit.
"I think what's also very concerning is the fact the MPO said they had comments from over 700 people, and none of those people were within three blocks of where this bridge was supposed to be built," Pryor said.
Katy Johnson, president of the parent-teacher organization for J. Nelson Kelly Elementary School on 32nd, spoke against building a bridge on a street where many children ride bicycles to and from school.
"I just feel we-'we' being the people of Grand Forks-have been so uninformed about the MPO, its role (and) its process," Johnson said. "I don't feel they're valuing our opinions. They want to do what they can to fulfill their bureaucratic process, checking their items off their to-do list."
"An example of that would be the meetings they've held," she added. "I don't think they've been transparent that those meetings were about a bridge or the building of a bridge."
Haugen and Vein both said the MPO and the city of Grand Forks will consider ways to improve their methods of sharing information.
"I believe that the leadership of the MPO is horrible," Sande said on Tuesday. "I think Earl (Haugen) does a disservice to the citizens of Grand Forks. It's in the 'actually putting forward a little effort' aspect of it-checking boxes and burying your head in spreadsheets does not produce good results."
Sande and council member Sandi Marshall were the only two members to vote against adopting the MPO's plan. Council member Danny Weigel was absent for the vote.
When the MPO updates its long range plan again in another five years, Sande said he expects the council will hear "a significant public outcry" against a bridge on 32nd.
"People are finally starting to learn that it is in the plan, he said. "The MPO gives absolutely zero effort in trying to get the information out to people. And because of that people don't know."
East Grand Forks City Council members will consider adopting the MPO's recommendations during a meeting Tuesday night. The MPO Executive Policy Board will make the final decision on Wednesday during its meeting in East Grand Forks City Hall at noon.
"When you impact people like this, it's an emotional issue. And I actually understand that more than people think," Vein said.
"But if you look at the logical process that we looked at, I think it makes really good sense. The issue I think a lot of them are having is they didn't like the decision."
• Northridge construction succeeded in the first of many steps it must take to receive a tax incentive for a six-story multi-use building it is developing downtown on North Fourth Street. Over the course of several meetings with taxing entities including Grand Forks County and the school district, the company will ask permission to receive property tax exemptions as the value increases with construction.
• The city of Grand Forks agreed to extend a water use agreement with the proposed Northern Plains Nitrogen plant, first announced in 2013. Every six months or so the city has extended its agreement as the company seeks investment for the project.