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Our view: I-29 interchange shows progress; 47th is the best spot

An event is planned for Thursday to discuss potential improvements to Interstate 29 in the immediate Grand Forks area.

Herald pull quote, 01/11/23
Herald graphic
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An event is planned for Thursday to discuss potential improvements to Interstate 29 in the immediate Grand Forks area. According to coverage last week in the Herald, the public input meeting will include representatives from the North Dakota Department of Transportation, the city of Grand Forks and Ulteig Engineers, Inc.

The meeting – from 5 to 7 p.m. – will be at the Hampton Inn and Suites, 2985 South 42nd Street in Grand Forks.

The meeting’s chief topic: A proposed new interchange along I-29, somewhere between 32nd Avenue South and 62nd Avenue South. This is good, and it continues the progress that seems destined to end with a much-needed new interchange in south Grand Forks.

A Herald report in the summer of 2021 noted that “Long a Grand Forks pipe dream, new I-29 interchange plans reach ‘milestone.’” At the time, the City Council had just given approval to a cost-sharing agreement with the state Department of Transportation for a preliminary study of the proposal. City Administrator Todd Feland considered the city-state partnership a “milestone” in the hoped-for project.

Whereas the Thursday meeting apparently will discuss placing a new interchange between the roughly 2.5-mile stretch from 32nd Avenue South to 62nd Avenue South, we believe there really is only one good place to put a new interchange – at 47th Avenue South. It’s a location perfect for a new city entrance, considering its easy access to the city’s growing south side.

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At present, south-end residents who wish to access I-29 and drive southward often do so by way of Highway 81. Many drive southward on Columbia Road, which turns into a narrow two-lane highway just past the city limits. It creates congestion on a highway that obviously was not designed for such high traffic.

While a new I-29 interchange at 47th wouldn’t entirely end this practice, it certainly would help reduce some of the traffic on this rural stretch.

It also would ease growing congestion on 32nd Avenue. When the Herald reported on the possibilities of this project back in 2021, it noted that city leaders have “heard from interstate planners that the off-ramp at 32nd Avenue is likely to see increasingly bad congestion as the city grows, potentially even backing up into highway traffic.”

Feland, at the time, said the proposed interchange at 47th “is about reducing the traffic compaction at 32nd, and the interchange is the best option to do that, as opposed to adding lanes on 32nd.”

This isn’t some spur-of-the-moment project. It’s been discussed for at least a decade, with a city engineer saying in 2016 that “our concern is that as the city continues to grow south, there’s going to be so much overload on the interchange.”

He wondered: “How are we going to be able to handle that?”

Seven years later, the answer is obvious: Build a new interchange to ease that congestion.

And the best place appears to be at 47th Avenue.

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