Grand Forks' traffic-choked streets may see some relief as soon as next week.
If all goes to plan, the Point Bridge could reopen soon, thanks to a new public works effort on the part of East Grand Forks' Fire Department. East Grand Forks Fire Chief Gary Larson said the city has begun erecting a clay dike on the eastern side of the bridge to hold back the flooding Red River. The city is moving dirt from a nearby intersection.
The plan hangs on the city of Grand Forks removing a portion of its own flood wall along Minnesota Avenue to allow motorists to pass through, Larson said.
"Ideally, if we could have it open (Friday), that would be great," he said. "If the high levels of water are starting to recede by next week, it would still help ... to open early next week. Just as soon as possible."
Larson stressed that the bridge's reopening remains far from certain at this point. He added he didn't want to "get a lot of hopes up" too early.
"If we can get a bridge open and take the pressure off for the people, they're all for it," Larson said. "Safety is the No. 1 factor."
Mike Yavarow, a principal engineer with Grand Forks Engineering Department, said the Point Bridge would still need to be inspected before it's reopened. How long those inspections could take is anyone's guess.
"We don't know when the green light will happen," he said. "If they find something you can't see now that's wrong with the bridge, it might not open for a month."
In addition, water flowing over the road on the East Grand Forks side would need to be pumped out of the area before motorists are allowed back on the bridge.
To complicate matters, the Red River is slated to crest again this weekend, according to National Weather Service forecasts. Though the river level has receded since its initial crest of 46.78 feet in Grand Forks last week, it could reach a second crest of 46 feet Saturday. The Grand Forks region also saw about a quarter-inch of rainfall this week, along with more than six inches of snow last week.
As of Thursday morning, the Red River was at 45.28 feet, mere inches away from "major stage" flooding, according to the National Weather Service.
"(The result of) last week's snow storm is making its way into the southern valley on top of the rainfall that we've recently received," said Amanda Lee, meteorologist and service hydrologist with the National Weather Service. "So all of that is fully making its way into the river, and that will head northward toward Grand Forks."
Secondary crests don't happen regularly, but they're not rare, Lee said.
Yavarow and Larson said each city will continue to work toward reopening the Point Bridge as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, the Sorlie Bridge's reopening date remains uncertain. Paul Konickson, bridge engineer with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said he visited the bridge earlier this week and found it was too soon to perform inspections.
"We really just couldn't see well enough to do inspection to be confident we should open," Konickson said.
Depending on water levels, MnDOT crews could return for inspections "late next week," but Konickson was hesitant to give any specific timeline.
The Minnesota and North Dakota DOTs have oversight of the Sorlie Bridge, while the cities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks are responsible for the Point Bridge.
Meanwhile, in Drayton, N.D., the Red River crossed into major stage flooding early Wednesday, when the river reached 42 feet. The river is slated to crest at 42.5 feet Friday morning, according to weather service forecasts. In Pembina, N.D., the river continues its slow ascent to a projected crest of 50.5 feet on Wednesday. As of Thursday morning, the river sat at 46.72 feet.
Whether the river will crest a second time in Drayton, Pembina and other northern communities remains to be seen, but Lee said it's not likely.
"They don't have as high a chance (of a second crest) because most of that snow and rain that we've received was farther south," she said. "As it moves farther north, it kind of dampens out a little bit. But it probably will cause them to stay high for quite a while just like other locations farther south."
Pembina leaders remain prepared in either case, Mayor Kyle Dorion said Thursday.
"The overall feeling is that it's not going to be an issue," he said.
The city plans to erect small earthen levees on a bridge across the Pembina River, a tributary that flows into the Red. In the past, Pembina has sandbagged the area, but the city has decided to go with clay levees to "try something different," Dorion said.