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Grand Forks City Council members divided on grant for 42nd Street underpass

Grand Forks city officials disagreed Tuesday on whether to pursue a federal grant for an underpass at the intersection of 42nd Street and DeMers Avenue.


Grand Forks city officials disagreed Tuesday on whether to pursue a federal grant for an underpass at the intersection of 42nd Street and DeMers Avenue.

The uncertainty hinged on how the city would fund a local share of the $40 million project, under discussion for years as a solution to traffic backups on 42nd.

The City Council's Service/Safety Committee voted 2-1 Monday to recommend approving a letter of commitment for $8 million local funding if the city receives a $32 million federal grant. The letter would be part of an application for the grant.

Council member Terry Bjerke said he voted against pursuing the grant because city staff is unsure how the city would pay the $8 million if awarded the grant.

"I can't vote for this if we don't have a dedicated funding source," he said.


Council members Ken Vein and Crystal Schneider also said they were concerned about how the local share of the project would be funded, but they said they were wary of voting against the possibility of $32 million, even if it's a slim chance Grand Forks will be awarded the grant.

The likelihood of being awarded funding through this program is estimated at 3 to 5 percent, according to a city staff report.

City staff members floated a few ideas as to where the $8 million could come from, including a possible citywide assessment, bonds or pulling funding from other local road projects.

A citywide special assessment "always scares me," because historically in other North Dakota cities residents have resisted that, City Engineer Al Grasser said. "But if there's one project that would receive a high level of community support, it might be this one."

The city for years has considered an underpass that would route traffic under train tracks that parallel DeMers Avenue, and recent increases in rail and vehicle traffic have exacerbated the need, city officials said.

All three council members at Monday's meeting supported the project, but were hesitant because of funding questions.

"I have no desire in pushing back other projects to get this one done," Bjerke said.

Vein responded, "My only concern about that is then we're kind of admitting we're not going to do the project," because smaller projects will likely always have to be held for a major project like the underpass.


City Administrator Todd Feland said he also felt the city may be getting ahead of itself by pursuing the federal grant without knowing how to fund the local share.

"If we applied for it and we got it ... we would find a way to do it," Feland said, but it would be better to have a local plan in place first, because it would increase the city's chances of receiving the grant.

"We're a year too soon with the project," he said.

Vein and Grasser both said the city may want to just take a chance on the federal grant now, as federal transportation programs like this one are dwindling.

"If we don't try, aren't we losing a chance at 80 percent funding?" Vein said.

But Grasser also agreed with Feland that having a local funding plan will increase the city's chances of receiving the grant.

City staff told the council members they will further research local funding options and provide that information to the full City Council next week, when the council votes on final approval of the request.

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