East Grand Forks might push a road reconstruction plan to the front of the line for federal funding in 2022, which would further delay a plan to build a south-end roundabout.
City hall staff are working on the particulars of a $2.29 million proposal to rebuild and extend a segment of 10th Street Northeast as it runs past several businesses on the city’s western edge. About $860,000 of that project would be paid for with federal money, $794,000 would come from adjacent property owners and the remaining $636,000 would come from East Grand Forks’ city government, which would pick up that tab with money it receives each year from the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
If the city prioritizes that plan, it would presumably come at the expense of an existing one to install a $1.56 million roundabout at the intersection of Bygland Road Southeast and Rhinehart Drive Southeast. That project would use $860,000 from the federal government, $130,000 from the city’s water and light utility, and $574,000 from the city’s MnDOT aid.
One of those projects would happen before the other because both would lean heavily on the same $860,000 allocated from the feds in the current go-round of a four-year state transportation improvement plan. The Bygland roundabout is currently in that plan and is slated to be built in 2022. If city leaders decide to put the 10th Street road ahead of it, it would effectively delay the roundabout’s construction until 2024 or later. East Grand Forks City Council members decided in 2017 to postpone building the roundabout until 2022.
Council member Clarence Vetter, whose ward begins about a block from the Rhinehart and Bygland intersection, said he preferred keeping the roundabout plan.
“It’s going to benefit more of the citizens in our town, and the money should go to where the citizens are using the road,” Vetter said at a council meeting last month.
The roundabout was suggested by the Grand Forks and East Grand Forks Metropolitan Planning Organization in 2015 as a way to ease traffic congestion in town. Anecdotally, that intersection doesn’t see more traffic accidents than any other, according to East Grand Forks Police.
The 10th Street project would fix a segment of road that’s become so rough it’s reportedly prompted truck drivers to drive through nearby business’ parking lots and driveways to avoid it. The Bygland intersection’s roadways are in relatively good condition, according to city staff.
Council President Mark Olstad worried on Tuesday whether the businesses along 10th would be willing to be specially assessed to pay for the rebuild there.
“I personally wouldn’t go forward unless 100% of them signed off on it,” he said, later adding that he was leaning toward the 10th Street project.
Also unclear is whether the city could assess the property immediately south of the road, which is occupied by disused railroad tracks. City Attorney Ron Galstad told council members that railroad companies are generally not exempt from assessments, but he also said he hadn’t had time to confirm who actually owns that land. If the city wasn’t able to assess the railroad owner, it would presumably have to find another $400,000 in its own pockets.
But that might not be a particularly big civic ask: The city has saved some of its state aid and has a particularly weighty savings account that exceeds the maximum size recommended by city policy.
“The condition of this street is what it is,” Mayor Steve Gander said of 10th. “If we do the Bygland roundabout, this street will continue to go into disrepair and nothing will have changed.”
Vetter and Council member Dale Helms both suggested postponing the council’s decision. Helms asked for a few more weeks to determine some of the 10th Street plan's unknowns, and Vetter suggested adding it to the next iteration of the statewide transportation plan, which would run from 2024 to 2027.
If the council decides to switch its plans for the federal money, that would mean amending the current version of the transportation plan, which would mean a formal vote at some point. Either project wouldn’t get off the ground until 2022, which leaves a modest amount of time for the city to rehash its plan, and City Administrator David Murphy said he expects the Council will make a decision in the next few months.