Grand Forks City Council members took a miniscule step toward the construction of a new southside bridge.

Council members voted 5-1 on Monday, Oct. 7, to direct city engineers to prepare a “scope of work” and solicit firms’ qualifications to study the hydraulics of three potential spots for a new bridge over the Red River: Elks Drive, 32nd Avenue and 47th Avenue. If and when city staff members select the most qualified firm, they’d negotiate a contract and bring it to Council members for approval.

If city leaders give the go-ahead for the study, it would build on one conducted by the Metropolitan Planning Organization that compared the estimated cost of several bridge locations to the estimated amount they would reduce traffic congestion. The organization found that a 32nd Avenue bridge would have the best cost-to-benefit ratio, and staff there have asked Grand Forks and East Grand Forks for money to further study that spot, plus Elks and 47th.

Leaders in both cities have been sparring for years over the best place to build a fourth road bridge between them. Both city councils adopted long-range transportation plans that include one at 32nd Avenue, but critics in Grand Forks have characterized that as a longtime placeholder and a means to receive federal money more than an endorsement.

More than one Council member at Grand Forks’ Monday meeting stressed their desire for more information about all three spots. Sandi Marshall characterized the planning organization’s study as “limited.”

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“I think there are many other important factors to consider,” said Marshall, who, along with fellow Council member Dana Sande, hosted a ward meeting last month where the bulk of residents were vocally opposed to building a new bridge at 32nd. “Decisions are a long ways off, but a lot more data needs to be gathered.”

Council member Danny Weigel, Monday’s lone “nay” vote, said he had yet to talk to a Grand Forks resident who was in favor of a 32nd Avenue bridge. Mayor Michael Brown said former city leaders assured people that there would never be a bridge there but voted for one anyway to get funding for the planning organization.

“Previous council members may have said some things, but no council can dictate what a future council does,” said Council member Jeannie Mock. “Even if we voted right now, today, as a majority, that the bridge will be at one location, we can’t mandate that for a future council. What I would rather we do is give a future council more data so that they can make a data-driven decision.”

Grand Forks has yet to spend any money on the new analysis, which would look at the effects of bridges at Elks, 32nd and 47th on the flow of the Red River. The organization plans to study more than that, but asked the two cities for cash for the hydraulic study after staff there learned they wouldn’t be able to get federal funding for it.

East Grand Forks City Council members agreed to pay for their half of the 32nd Avenue hydraulic study. They did not approve funding for the studies of Elks or 47th.

Staff at both cities expect the hydraulic study to cost about $30,000 per location.

Voting to direct staff to prepare the scope of work and meet with firms who could conduct the hydraulic study were Marshall, Mock, and fellow Council members Katie Dachtler, Bret Weber, and Ken Vein. Voting against was Weigel. Sande was not present.

Staff at the Metropolitan Planning Organization asked Grand Forks and East Grand Forks for money to further study the effects of bridges at Elks, 32nd and 47th.