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Another push for Merrifield bridge in Grand Forks area

A group of Grand Forks County residents have started a petition drive that's been more than 20 years in the making. The South Forks Bypass Coalition is seeking signatures in hopes of getting two projects planned for Merrifield Road, also known as...

A group of Grand Forks County residents have started a petition drive that's been more than 20 years in the making.

The South Forks Bypass Coalition is seeking signatures in hopes of getting two projects planned for Merrifield Road, also known as County Road 6, bumped up on the priority list of North Dakota and Minnesota state transportation departments.

The charge is led by 85-year-old Roland Young who has championed constructing a south-end bridge over the Red River and an interchange at Merrifield Road since 1991, when he was an official with the Chamber of Commerce.

"We want it brought to the table and given priority," he said of his latest efforts.

Though Young's business, Telpro, is near where the interchange would be and would likely benefit, the coalition has a broad reach. It has, for decades, include the likes of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association and the Red River Valley Potato Growers Association, whose members wish to avoid hauling their produce through congested urban roads.

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In the game

The petition has been circulating the Grand Forks community for a week and also is available to view online, according to Young. The group is seeking at least 500 signatures.

"A lot of people had given up on (the projects)," he said. "We're trying to liven up our coalition and get our voices back in the game."

This has not gone unnoticed by Earl Haugen, executive director of the area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

While the petition cannot force either transportation department to take action, Haugen said it would have an effect. "It would be one of the many inputs going into our decision-making process."

The Merrifield projects are classified as mid-range projects, which means construction would begin sometime before 2025.

"We haven't gone past that timeframe yet," Haugen said. "We're still in that window."

Costs

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Sometime before 2025 isn't enough of an answer for Young.

According to Young, the Merrifield projects have had support for years, but the sticking point is always funding. Estimates put the cost of the bridge and interchange projects at $23 million and $10 million respectively.

"The longer you wait, the more expensive it's going to get," Young said.

Federal funding is drying up for projects such as Merrifield, leaving the states to pick up most of the tab, Haugen said.

Young suggests the state transportation departments hold off on two other bridge repair or replacement projects slated for the Kennedy Bridge in 2016 and the Sorlie Bridge in 2018. Both of those projects are predicted to cost $25 million each.

"Those bridges aren't in that bad of shape," Young said.

The coalition's petition says a bridge at Merrifield would relieve traffic woes that will come with the eventual rehab or replacement of the Kennedy and Sorlie bridges.

Haugen said the amount of relief depends on whether or not either bridge is repaired or replaced.

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Past petition

This isn't the first time Young and the coalition has used petitions to garner support for the Merrifield projects.

In the mid-1990s, the MPO was in the process of deciding if the community needed another bridge on its north or south end.

Young said he and others circulated petitions campaigning for the southern option.

"We had stacks and stacks of them back then," he said of the signatures they collected.

The Merrifield projects were then added to Grand Forks' long-term transportation plan in 1996, Haugen said.

"It took enthusiasm to get them on the table," Young said. "We want to move ahead with it."

For more info: The petition is at www.southforksbypass.wordpress.com and at various locations in the community.

Call Jewett at (701) 780-1108; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1108; or send email to bjewett@gfherald.com .

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