Grand Forks leaders approved the money they’ll need to study a hoped-for interchange at 47th Avenue and Interstate 29.
City Council members voted unanimously to authorize their share of an “environmental documentation” of that project. The city is on the hook for half the cost of that study -- or up to $1.5 million -- and the North Dakota Department of Transportation is set to cover the other half. The study would attempt to determine whether an intersection there is allowed and, if so, what configuration it should be, city staff explained.
That could ensure that Grand Forks can eventually build an interchange there because the city could use the study to reserve right of way -- think of calling “dibs” -- at that intersection before it’s overtaken by development that would make it difficult to build the interchange. It’s the kind of work that some on Monday seemed to believe might have eased longstanding tensions over a southside bridge across the Red River.
“If we would have done the planning that probably could have been done 30 years ago, that corridor would be prepared and ready to go when the time comes. Now, we’re having all the issues with the neighborhoods and whatever,” said Ken Vein, who represents Grand Forks’ central neighborhoods. “This is a way to resolve that early on and have the reservation.”
Council member Sandi Marshall said she thought similarly.
“Certainly, from our experience with the inner-city bridges, having the reserve of the right of way is a hugely important issue,” she said.
The unanimous vote is a change from last week’s preliminary consideration of the study funding, which resulted in a 3-3 tie. Council member Katie Dachtler, who represents the city’s second ward, was absent from that meeting but later told the Herald she was leaning slightly toward a “no.”
Critics of the study worried that advancing the interchange might mean competition for state and federal funding with the city’s other long-range infrastructure hopes, such as that long-awaited bridge. Council member Danny Weigel, who voted against funding the study last week but was absent from Monday’s decisive vote, told his Facebook followers that he believes an underpass or overpass at the intersection of 42nd Street and DeMers Avenue should be Grand Forks’ priority.
“When I said, ‘we either pick one or we get none,’ well, that may not be the case,” said Council member Bret Weber, referring to the worry that pushing ahead with the interchange project might dilute the city’s other possible requests for outside funding. “The state may be in a situation where it’s looking for projects like this to fund and it’s incredibly important for us to be ready, maybe not with just one shovel-ready project, but with two or more shovel ready-projects. Getting this kind of information is important to moving toward that.”
Weber and Council member Jeannie Mock changed from “no” votes to “yes” votes. Dachtler, who participated this week via phone, was inaudible during the vote but later told the Herald she voted “yes.” Marshall, Vein, and Council President Dana Sande voted “yes” last week and this week. Weigel voted “no” last week and was absent this week.