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42nd Street growing, but no new push for railroad underpass

Although lots of new apartments, hotels and businesses have been or are being developed recently on 42nd Street south of DeMers Avenue on the west side of Grand Forks, traffic at the intersection that includes a railway line across 42nd hasn't in...

Traffic backs up on 42nd St. at DeMers Ave. Tuesday afternoon as a BNSF train moves west. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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Although lots of new apartments, hotels and businesses have been or are being developed recently on 42nd Street south of DeMers Avenue on the west side of Grand Forks, traffic at the intersection that includes a railway line across 42nd hasn’t increased greatly and there are no plans to revamp the intersection any time soon, city officials say.

For several years city leaders have talked of an underpass or overpass there to avoid road traffic waiting for trains to cross.

But other road improvements in the city simply are more needed in the near future, city leaders say.

In 2012, city leaders chose as the best option for the intersection’s future a plan that would make 42nd Street pass under DeMers and the rail tracks, leaving DeMers and the tracks at their current grades, or levels, said Mark Walker, assistant city engineer. The city acquired the needed land but doesn’t plan to change the intersection anytime soon.

It seems to some as if there is a lot more train traffic at the site, but it hasn’t changed dramatically, according to BNSF Railway.


Every 24 hours, BNSF moves six to eight freight trains on their east/west “main line” across 42nd Street, up from five to seven trains per day in 2010, said Amy McBeth, BNSF spokeswoman in Minneapolis.

Traffic counts

 Vehicle traffic at the intersection on 42nd Street has increased, but mostly on the south side of DeMers Avenue and not including crossing the rail tracks, according to Jane Williams, traffic engineer for the city.  However, the actual vehicle counts on the north and south sides of the intersection are roughly equal.

Williams said according to the state Department of Transportation’s counts, on 42nd Street on the south side of DeMers, average daily traffic totaled 10,400 in 2005, 10,840 in 2008, 11,640 in 2010 and 13,395 in 2013, the latest figures available. That’s up 15 percent the past four years and up 29 percent since 2005, “significant” increases, Williams said.

Meanwhile, on the north side of the intersection the increase of traffic on 42nd Street has been less: From 13,300 in 2005 - when some temporary local construction work upped figures, Williams said - back down to 12,580 in 2008 to 12,020 in 2010 to 13,490 in 2013, a 12 percent increase the past four years.

“That’s noticeable, but not necessarily a significant increase,” Williams said.

Daily traffic on DeMers on the east side of the intersection averaged 13,200 in 2005, 13,445 in 2008, 14,485 in 2010 and 14,225 in 2013, an increase of 7.8 percent over nine years.

On the west side on DeMers, daily traffic averaged 12,400 in both 2005  and  2008, 13,900 in 2010 and 12,815 in 2013. That’s up 3.3 percent over nine years, but down 7.8 percent the past four years.


Driver choices

People driving the vehicles have opinions.

“It can be really frustrating waiting for a train,” said Alithea Cree, a customer of the Loaf and Jug gas station at 4250 University Ave. just north of the intersection, near her home. “There’s more traffic, so we’ve been having to find different routes because it’s not as fast as it used to be.”

Ed Schenk, manager of the DeMers Interstate Cenex station just west of the intersection, said, “I can’t say I’ve noticed anything’s changed drastically here. There’s been something in the works there for years and it would be nice to see it get done. But I don’t think it affects our business.”

Andy Magness, who has lived near UND since 2007, caught some computer and coffee time across the tracks at the new Tim Horton’s on 42nd Street south of DeMers on Tuesday.

“I’ve only had to wait for trains once or twice,” he said. Like many from campus, he makes a point of avoiding the intersection if he sees a train nearby.

 But looking around at all the new construction of apartments and motels along 42nd Street that includes student housing, Magness said: “It will be an issue.”

Bruce Gjovig, director of UND’s Center for Innovation right off 42nd Street a block north of the rail tracks, watched a long freight train Tuesday afternoon that backed up rush hour traffic two blocks or more on 42nd past his building.


“The number of trains is up and combined with a lot more car traffic,” he said.

 It’s typical to see drivers pull a quick U-turn on 42nd Street in front of his center when they see a train near the intersection, Gjovig said.

“It forces more people on University Avenue than we would like … to Columbia Road to avoid the trains here.”

City plans

City Council member Doug Christensen said he hasn’t received any calls about the intersection.

“As far as development of 42nd to the south, increased traffic and usage may present themselves in the future, and we will probably see that in the next two or three years as the rest of the apartments get built.”

But the city’s plans for road improvements are pretty well set for the next five to seven years, he said.

Walker said it’s a matter of priorities.

The city gets roughly $2 million a year in federal highway funds, he said.

Meanwhile, the 2012 estimate was that a new intersection there would cost up to $29 million.

The intersection makeover project “is on the backburner,” compared with other more needed road improvement projects in the city that include fixing some “terrible, terrible” roadways on Columbia Road South and 42nd Street north of DeMers Avenue, Walker said Tuesday.

In recent years the city has spent a lot of money improving the intersection geared at making the rail crossing safer, as part of the “Quiet Zone” program in partnership with BNSF, Williams said.

 “I have not received any complaints from that area (about waiting for trains) in eight months,” Williams said.

With Interstate 29 to the west and Columbia Road to the east, “people are not just stuck there, they have another way.”


658962+043014.N.GFH_.INTERSECTION 42nd street.jpg

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