Grand Forks City Council members give preliminary approval to Phoenix Elementary School Safety Study
Pedestrian safety along Belmont Road, especially near the area of the Point Bridge and Phoenix Elementary, has been a top concern that has been voiced before by several council members.
GRAND FORKS – A safety study for Phoenix Elementary School, located close to downtown Grand Forks, was considered by City Council members during their Committee of the Whole meeting Feb. 27.
The agenda item comes after council member Tricia Lunski proposed a traffic study for the area at the Jan. 17 City Council meeting.
Pedestrian safety along Belmont Road, especially near the area of the Point Bridge and Phoenix Elementary, has been a top concern voiced before by several council members. Discussion on an inter-city bridge also has highlighted the need for further study on the traffic levels on Belmont Road.
Several studies have been conducted on the area in the past, including a Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Metropolitan Planning Organization School Safety Summary Study in 2014, a Near Southside Historical Neighborhood Traffic Study in 2018 and, most recently, an MPO Future Bridge Impact Study and City Future Bridge Impact Study, both completed last year.
Assistant City Engineer David Kuharenko said the study will provide more in-depth detail on the area, as it will include stakeholder meetings with the school district and city staff as well as public-input meetings. Data collection will include video and drone footage of pickup and drop-off traffic at the school; traffic counts to determine turning movements, volume and speed; and a review of crash data.
“A number of the past studies were completed through the MPO. The MPO, because of the requirements they have at the federal level, can only look at it so far in depth,” he said. “This study is proposed to be very in-depth — getting a fair amount of public input through having multiple public-input meetings, as well as sending out direct mailers to the entire Phoenix Elementary School boundary to make sure that we get sufficient and as much public input as possible.”
During Monday’s committee meeting, council members voted 6-1 to give preliminary approval to a task order agreement with Bolten & Menk for engineering services not to exceed $76,936. Funding will come from the Streets/Infrastructure Fund, through which $80,000 has been budgeted for transportation studies.
Council member Rebecca Osowski was the only one to dissent. She said she would like the city to look at different firms and their pricing.
“As a mother, I don’t think there’s a price that can be put on the safety of my children or anybody else’s children, but I mean we have to be a little bit fiscally responsible,” she said.
Kuharenko said Bolten & Menk was selected from the city’s pre-approved list.
Council member Danny Weigel suggested checking with the school district to see if it would be willing to chip in on the cost of the study.
“I think if there’s an opportunity there to have them help out on certain things, I think it’s good,” Weigel said. “They are our citizens, they’re our kids, but they’re also the Grand Forks School District’s students as well. And they are a taxing entity and this could greatly benefit them as well as the neighborhood. It may not hurt to see if they would like to help invest in the safety of their children as well.”
Weigel also asked whether the city should use SRF Consulting Group, Inc. — the consultant working on the scoping phase of both the inter-city and Merrifield Bridge projects for the school safety study — or if the city should wait until the scoping phase is completed before conducting a school safety study. The scoping phase, conducted by SRF Consulting Group, won't delve into finer details.
Several council members, including Kyle Kvamme and Ken Vein, said pedestrian safety in that area needs to be addressed now.
“I really, frankly, like that it’s not the same engineer. I like that it’s us controlling, not the MPO, so we can drive safety,” Kvamme said. “I mean traffic, yes, that’s what we’re studying, but the reason we’re doing this is to address safety around the school. And if we can be in the driver’s seat, control that and not wait for any other entities to weigh in, we’re just going to do what we can to make this as safe as possible as quickly as possible. …”
The study is scheduled to be completed in August. When done, the consultant will develop several improvement concepts for the area while receiving feedback from stakeholders and the neighborhood.
Council members are set to give final approval to the task order at their regular council meeting next week.
Also Monday, Osowski asked when the council can expect updates on the Fufeng corn mill project, which the council earlier this year voted to abandon after it was declared a threat to national security. She specifically asked about a letter of credit extended to Fufeng, as well as what Fufeng Group now plans to do with the land that it purchased for the plant.
City Administrator Todd Feland said updates on the project are expected to be brought back at a later date, including the Grand Forks Economic Development Corporation’s role with the city and updates on planning and zoning.
Feland said Dan Gaustad, the city attorney, is in discussion with Fufeng’s attorney on the letter of credit, as well as seeking to learn about Fufeng's plans for the land.
Council member Ken Vein also discussed an after-action follow-up report, something that he mentioned at last week’s council meeting . He would like to see follow-up on lessons learned from the project and things the city could do better, especially as a development agreement is being prepared for the Epitome Energy soybean crushing facility proposed for just northwest of city limits.
“I throw those out there. I think they’re important issues that we should proactively be addressing and not waiting until something’s before us and then (we) have to react to it,” he said.
Council President Dana Sande asked whether those discussions should be public.
“How much of a public discussion do we want to have about the things that worked and didn’t work prior to entering into the development agreement with someone (who) is going to be listening and wanting to actively negotiate against us?” Sande asked.
Vein said he’s hoping the council will be able to talk “pretty openly on most of the items.” Vein said he would also like to see answers to questions more in advance.
Feland said some things the city learned from the Fufeng process and will apply to the Epitome Energy development agreement are in relation to the tax incentives and rates for infrastructure.
In other news Monday, council members:
- Considered approving the plans and specifications for annual maintenance projects on asphalt streets. The intent of the project is to make spot repairs throughout the city in locations that have been previously identified, as well as those that develop throughout the project. The estimated amount for this project is $50,000, with funding coming from the city’s Street/ Infrastructure Fund 4815.
- Considered approving an engineering agreement with Interstate Engineering for design engineering services in the amount of $310,000 for a Columbia Road overpass rehabilitation project. Funding for the local share of the design engineering will come from the city’s Street/Infrastructure Fund 4815, where $500,000 has been budgeted for this year.
- Received an update on the legislative session. At present, legislators are in recess after crossover day on Feb. 24. The city has tracked a total of 91 bills this session, and has provided written and verbal testimony in committee for a total of 12 bills. Now that bills have crossed over, the city is tracking 57 bills.