Constituents discuss Kennedy bridge concerns with Minnesota legislators
At John Barrett's farm on the north edge of East Grand Forks, he can see the rest of his family's fields on the other side of the Red River.
"I'm not kidding, we could almost throw a rock across the river and hit the field we're moving to," Barrett said.
A few years ago, Barrett said it took about 25 minutes to move his farming equipment from one field to the next using the Kennedy Bridge on U.S. Highway 2. Now he said he spends four and a half hours crossing the bridge at Oslo, Minn.
The problem, Barrett said, is changes the Minnesota Department of Transportation made during a two-year reconstruction of the Kennedy Bridge. That includes a barrier separating the bridge's pedestrian and traffic lanes and a concrete median running down the center, two things Barrett said don't provide enough room for farm equipment.
"They took so much of our lanes away from us to create this pedestrian crossway," Barrett said. "Before, we had a curb there that was big enough to walk on, but it was low enough that the farm equipment would hang over it, so it was like a win-win deal ... We can't do that anymore."
Barrett was one of several attendees at a Town Hall event Monday morning with Minnesota Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, and Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston. Barrett and others who used to cross the Kennedy Bridge using large equipment asked the lawmakers if there was a way to make the Kennedy Bridge pedestrian path exterior by moving it outside of the bridge's main frame.
"I know what it's like to drive equipment across a bridge. It's scary," said Kiel, who farms in Crookston.
Both Johnson and Kiel said they talked with MNDOT during the construction process.
"And they assured us, 'No, it shouldn't affect you, it shouldn't affect you'," said Johnson. "Now, at the end of the day two years later, you can't get your equipment through there."
Paul Konickson, a district bridge engineer with MNDOT, said he's heard the exterior path request before.
"There's just a number of reasons why we can't do that," Konickson said. "Structurally, it's very difficult to do ... The other reason, really, is it's eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. That really limits a lot of the changes you can do."
Konickson said MNDOT didn't change much when it comes to the bridge's width.
"If you go from curb to curb, we've really only lost about 9 inches eastbound and 9 inches westbound," Konickson said.
MNDOT plans to remove the concrete median in May, Konickson said.
"We'd be able to get our equipment across if they moved the divider, but then we'd have to drive into oncoming traffic to move across," Barrett said.
Gas tax increase
Johnson and Kiel also discussed the strain they anticipate a proposed 20 cent gas tax increase will have on their legislative district.
"Everything we have is either shipped up here, or we're shipping out of here," Johnson said.
Gov. Tim Walz proposed the increase earlier this year to fund transportation and road needs throughout the state.
"We want to make sure that (transportation is) well-funded,"Johnson said. "We just don't think this is the way to do it. It just really impacts our neck of the woods disproportionately."
Kiel suggested the increase would serve urban infrastructure needs more than it would rural roads. Walz has previously said this tax increase will help fill potholes across the state, even encouraging Minnesotans to tweet pictures of potholes using the hashtag #MNpotholes.
"When I drive in potholes, I see them in the cities, and I think to myself—isn't that what the city budget takes care of?" Kiel said. "I mean, granted, there's some on the highways, but you know, our highways are looking pretty good."