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NDDOT director to meet with county officials about Nielsville Bridge

NIELSVILLE, Minn.--North Dakota's transportation leader will meet with officials from Polk and Traill counties next week to discuss how to address a bridge that has been closed for more than a year, but the talks likely will focus on how to spend...

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Traill County Road Superintendent Cory Martin (right) and Kris Bakkegard, an engineer with KLJ Engineering in Fargo, examine the hole that developed in September 2015 on the Nielsville (Minn.) Bridge over the the Red River. The bridge has been closed for more than a year. Photo by Kevin Bonham/Grand Forks Herald

NIELSVILLE, Minn.-North Dakota's transportation leader will meet with officials from Polk and Traill counties next week to discuss how to address a bridge that has been closed for more than a year, but the talks likely will focus on how to spend funds on county projects and not on obtaining additional funds from the state to replace the bridge.

Grant Levi, the state Department of Transportation director, will meet with leaders from the two counties Tuesday in Bismarck to discuss funding options for the Nielsville Bridge, a 77-year-old structure that connects Polk and Traill counties at the Red River. County engineers are meeting in the capital city, and Levi is expected to meet with leaders from various counties to discuss transportation and infrastructure matters affecting different parts of the state, DOT spokeswoman Jamie Olson said.

Levi was unavailable for comment this week and Olson said she was unsure what exactly would be discussed in the meeting next week.

The bridge about 30 miles south of Grand Forks was closed in September 2015 after a large hole developed in the structure's deck. Locals, particularly farmers, have depended on the bridge to cross the Red River, but the closure has forced travelers to drive at least 7 miles out of the way to other bridges. The Nielsville Bridge, which connects Traill County Road 17 and Polk County 1, sits between Nielsville and Cummings, N.D.

A project to replace the bridge is estimated between $8.5 million and $11.7 million, with Polk and Traill counties sharing in the costs. Polk County leaders expect Minnesota funds will cover its share of the costs, according to Polk County Engineer Richard Sanders. But North Dakota still must figure out how to fund its portion of the project, especially after budget cuts caused by low oil and ag prices have limited the amount the NDDOT can contribute to local projects.

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Officials from both counties had hoped the U.S. Department of Transportation would contribute funding through a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant, but the bridge did not receive a piece of the $500 million made available to transportation projects across the country.

With the TIGER grant out of reach until the next application round, Traill County is trying to determine how to proceed in obtaining funds. A meeting with Levi could help with brainstorming ideas on how to fund the project.

But how much money Traill County will receive from the state likely won't change, Olson said. The NDDOT distributes $283,000 annually in federal funds to Traill County. There is no extra money for the state to give to the bridge project, and the meeting likely will focus on how to allocate the funds the county does receive from the state on the county's various projects.

The county would have little money to give to other projects if it used all of its state-allocated funds on the Nielsville Bridge, County Commissioner Steve Larson said. He said he is pleased with and appreciative of the additional funds the county has received from the state due to oil tax revenue, which came to the tune of $5.2 million after the state Legislature last year approved funds for roadway and bridgework.

But for now, no solutions have been found in obtaining funding from outside sources, such as federal grants, as leaders from both counties wait for talks with NDDOT officials.

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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