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Airport upgrades, funding for road infrastructure projects top agenda items at legislative forum

Forum, hosted by Grand Forks Public Schools, allowed city, county and school officials to brief legislators on their respective priorities

Grand Forks Public Schools
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GRAND FORKS — The Grand Forks airport's executive director laid out a $147 million airfield development program before the region’s legislative delegation during a legislative forum on Thursday hosted by Grand Forks Public Schools.

The project seeks to upgrade Grand Forks International Airport’s existing runways, and construct a third runway by 2028.

The forum, which included state senators and representatives from North Dakota's 17th, 18th, 20th, 42nd and 43rd legislative districts, allowed officials from Grand Forks County, the city, the Grand Forks Regional Airport Authority, school district and parks department to present legislators with their budgetary priorities for the upcoming biennium.

The airfield development project, which began its planning phase in 2019 with an environmental review of the site, has proceeded to the design phase. The first phase of the project, lengthening runway 9L/27R, will allow commercial jets to use the runway, according to Ryan Riesinger, the airport authority’s executive director.

“We plan to extend the runway by approximately 2,500 feet to the west,” said Riesinger. “Construction services are under contract, and they’re already preparing for that work to begin in the spring. That will make the runway long enough for larger aircraft, and take some pressure off our primary runway, which is our only runway long enough to accommodate commercial carriers.”

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Following the completion of the runway extension, which Riesinger expects will take place in 2024, the airport authority plans to reconstruct its primary runway – 17R/35L. Riesinger says the runway’s pavement is nearing the end of its useful life.

“The concrete on our primary runway dates back to the early '60s, when the airport was first developed,” said Riesinger. “Reconstruction will allow us to maintain regular air service.”

The third and final phase of the airfield development program, slated for completion in 2028, includes plans to construct a third north-south runway. This additional runway would increase airfield capacity by 44%, according to Riesinger.

Riesinger said the airport authority is seeking a combination of federal and state funds to finance the majority of the $147 million cost.

Also at the meeting, Todd Feland, Grand Forks city administrator, expressed the need for road infrastructure improvements in the city. Feland cited two project — an underpass at the intersection of DeMers Avenue and 42nd Street, and an Interstate 29 interchange at 47th Avenue South, designed to alleviate traffic, as the most pressing.

“We’re partnering with the North Dakota Department of Transportation on both of those projects, in order to conduct environmental reviews and final design concepts,” said Feland. “I think in the next five years, with the current federal infrastructure bill, we’re going to get both of those projects done in partnership with the state of North Dakota.”

An analysis completed by the city estimates the cost of designing and constructing the underpass at $60 million. The city has proposed two funding formulas — a 50% state and 50% federal cost share, as well as a 50% federal and 50% city cost share.

Feland said he is expecting $47 million to $55 million in combined federal and state funding for the 47th Avenue interchange.

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Terry Brenner, superintendent of Grand Forks Public Schools, requested an annual increase of 8% in state foundation aid per year of the 2023-25 budget biennium.

The funds, which are allocated by the state department of public instruction, would be used to assist the district in coping with the effects of inflation and allow it to better retain its human capital, according to Brenner.

Brenner also advocated for a funding mechanism to increase per-pupil funding for students qualifying for special education.

“Currently, 20% of Grand Forks’ students are eligible for special education, which is a higher percentage than the four other large school districts we compare ourselves to,” said Brenner. “We do get funding from federal and state sources, but there is a significant gap in the money we receive, and the money we spend on our special education students.”

In other news from the legislative forum:

  • George Hellyer, director of the Grand Forks Park District, requested that the Legislature support the park district facility renovation grant program. Although the aforementioned grant provided Grand Forks County approximately $800,000 in funds in 2021, Hellyer noted that $9,288,930 in parks requests throughout the state went unfunded in 2021.
  • Tom Ford, Grand Forks county’s director of administration, expressed the county’s support for an enhanced-use lease to support a testing and training facility at Grand Sky business and aviation park. The 217-acre facility would support research and development in the field of UAS.
Banish covers news pertaining to K-12 and higher education, as well as county commission coverage.
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