Our view: Bring some clarity to Grand Forks wish list
State and federal dollars make the public construction world go ’round. Those funds make possible all sorts of progressive and needed projects, but they usually require some sort of local stake. Sometimes – as that outside money hinges on local dollars – the process sparks the fire of controversy. It can slow, or even kill, an important project.
Grand Forks city leaders this week debated the future of a study that very well could lead to a new interchange along Interstate 29. As proposed, it would lead directly from I-29 to 47th Avenue South, an area in Grand Forks that has seen – and presumably will continue to see – great growth.
The study will cost up to $1.5 million in local money (50% of the actual cost), but it could open the door to many times that in outside dollars. Is it worth it?
Yes, considering the future good that could come from the investment. City leaders, however, are split on the plan.
At present, the city has interstate exits at 32nd, DeMers, Gateway and Washington. Far-south residents often access the interstate via the exit at Thompson, 8 miles south of Grand Forks. A new interchange at 47th could help alleviate traffic and ease access to the city’s growing south neighborhoods.
It also could help answer the question of where to place a future bridge across the Red River. Putting the proposed bridge on the same street as the interchange would make the most sense.
Yet the city’s Committee of the Whole was split on the idea at a meeting Monday. The proposal is to fund the study and prepare an “environmental document.” It would not commit the city further to the project, but it was viewed by members Monday as a precursor to moving the interchange project forward, and probably at the expense of other proposals. The vote was 3-3, with committee member Katie Dachtler absent. She later told the Herald she is leaning “no” but still considering it.
The committee’s purpose is to make recommendations, which later will be decided by the proper City Council. The committee and the council have the same membership, so the committee’s decisions essentially are a preview of future council votes. The actual City Council will vote on the proposal at an upcoming meeting.
We believe words Monday from Councilman Bret Weber to be perfect for this ongoing situation: “If we continue to have three or four priorities, until we get to one, we’re going to get none.”
Weber is referencing the city’s wish list for potential projects, including the interchange, a railroad underpass on 42nd and a river bridge. All would be impactful. All would ease traffic congestion. And all are worthy of pursuit.
But it’s time for the city to pare its list, and if a $1.5 million study for an I-29 interchange could result in many millions more in outside dollars to help achieve the project and add clarity to the city’s future, it’s a good idea to proceed.