Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



'Kiss the Nielsville Bridge goodbye,' commissioner says

Polk County can "basically kiss the Nielsville Bridge goodbye" if North Dakota can't find funds to replace the aging structure, one county leader said, but others said hope for updating the bridge shouldn't be completely scrapped.

file photo
file photo

Polk County can "basically kiss the Nielsville Bridge goodbye" if North Dakota can't find funds to replace the aging structure, one county leader said, but others said hope for updating the bridge shouldn't be completely scrapped.

Warren Strandell, a Polk County commissioner for District 2, made those comments Tuesday during a county board meeting after finding out the North Dakota Department of Transportation could not afford to give Traill County, which is connected to Polk County by the Nielsville Bridge, extra money for a project that would replace the decades-old structure.

"Without North Dakota's participation in it, it won't happen without their financial participation," Strandell told the Herald on Friday. "It doesn't look like that is going to happen."

Strandell's comments came after Traill County officials met with NDDOT Director Grant Levi on Oct. 11 in Bismarck to discuss financing the bridge. Levi said he understands the importance of the bridge to locals who used it daily, but state budget cuts prompted by low oil and commodity prices have left the NDDOT with no extra money for other projects. Levi said his department's hands are tied and the decision to fix the bridge is in Traill County's hands.

The bridge connects Minnesota and North Dakota, crossing the Red River about 30 miles south of Grand Forks near Nielsville, Minn., and Cummings, N.D. It was closed in September 2015 after a large hole formed in the deck.


A project to replace the bridge, which is almost 80 years old, is estimated to cost between $8.5 million and $11 million, which would be split between Polk and Traill counties. The governing bodies applied for a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation that could have paid for the entire project, but the federal government turned down the application.

A study for preliminary planning has been paid for by both counties, so the project will be ready to move dirt once it receives the green light and funding. Minnesota can pay for its share of the project, Polk County Engineer Richard Sanders said.

The NDDOT gives $283,000 annually to Traill County, which in turn decides what projects that money should cover. That means without an outside source for funding or additional money from the state, Traill County would have to dedicate most, if not all, its budget to one bridge for several years, leaving other bridges that need to be repaired untouched.

"It ties up all of our funds for way too long," said Kurt Elliott, vice chairman for the Traill County Commission. "There is no way we could do it."

Elliott said the county would like to see the state pitch in more money since the Nielsville Bridge is an interstate structure, but he doesn't foresee NDDOT administrators changing their minds on the matter.

Still, he and Sanders don't feel the project is completely lost. There are other options to look at, Sanders said, such as simply repairing the deck.

"There are other things beyond replacement that we can do if we really feel like opening the bridge up," he said, adding repairing the bridge could be a possibility if Traill County can't find grants to support the project. "At this point, that's what our focus is, replacing the bridge."

Repairing the bridge deck could cost more than $1 million, but the old bridge needs more than a quick fix to make it usable, Elliott said.


"There are so many issues with that bridge that the repair part of it is not feasible in our opinion," he said.

Strandell suggested Traill County should sell bonds to fund the bridge, adding it has worked well for his county. Traill County commissioners and administration would have to discuss bonding, but Elliott said he isn't convinced the entire county would approve the sale if it required a public vote.

"That is still money we have to pay back at some point," he said.

Strandell said he hopes Traill County will look at all of its options, adding the bridge is important to local farmers, who now must travel at least 7 miles to cross the closest bridge.

"It doesn't seem to be moving ahead over there," he said, adding he disagreed with statements that Traill County and North Dakota have done everything possible to make the project happen. "I think they have considerations there and they ... just don't have the appetite to go forward."

Elliott said he understands the bridge is important to those who use it, but there are other bridges that need updates, adding each bridge is important to different people. Unless the county can find more money from an outside source, the bridge likely won't see a replacement.

"It's a critical bridge for them, I understand," he said. "I just don't feel we have the financing to do it."

Sanders said the counties will continue to look for funding until they decide replacing the bridge is no longer their focus, adding Traill County needs to find a way to fund its half of the project.


"Polk County isn't going to pay for 100 percent of the project," he said.

What To Read Next
Get Local