Grand Forks and East Grand Forks leaders differ on a plan to study their options for a new bridge across the Red River.

Staff from the Metropolitan Planning Organization have asked the two cities for money to study the effects of bridges at Elks Drive, 32nd Avenue and 47th Avenue on the flow of the Red River -- an estimated $30,000 per potential crossing study. Planning organization leaders and staff proposed in early September that the two cities share the costs of the Elks and 32nd studies and Grand Forks pay for the entirety of the one on 47th.

But, thus far, neither city council has agreed to that plan in its entirety. Last week, East Grand Forks leaders voted to pay for their half of the 32nd Avenue study, contingent on Grand Forks putting up its half of the same.

And a majority of Grand Forks City Council members on Monday, Sept. 23, were on board with studying all three locations, but they stopped short of designating the money.

Council members, acting as the city’s Committee of the Whole, voted 5-2 to direct the city’s engineers to put together a “scope of work” and request for qualifications of firms interested in studying those potential bridge locations, which would be an initial step toward formally authorizing the study.

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The Committee only gives initial consideration to city business, which means the Council proper is expected to formally consider adopting that directive next Monday.

A 2018 analysis by the planning organization concluded that a 32nd Avenue bridge would have the highest cost-to-benefit ratio, but that only compared a rough estimate of the cost of each location to a presumed reduction in city traffic. At Monday’s meeting, Council member Bret Weber said studying the three locations in greater detail could rule out 32nd as a viable option or demonstrate that 47th is the superior choice.

Both city councils agreed to include bridges over the Red River at 32nd and at Merrifield Road in long-range transportation plans they adopted months ago. Merrifield is a relatively uncontroversial spot that enjoys broad support, but some Grand Forks leaders have been reluctant to follow through on the plan for 32nd. Council member Dana Sande on Monday characterized the 32nd Avenue crossing as a longtime placeholder.

Grand Forks’ political and financial calculus could be complicated by Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown’s plan to veto spending on a 32nd Avenue bridge.

Brown said he’d prefer to have a new bridge built at 47th. But East Grand Forks hasn’t grown that far south, which makes it hard for city officials to justify spending money on it.