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Published June 13 2010

From big to bigger

Thirty-six miles long and up to 29 feet deep.

Nearly half a mile wide with a construction footprint of 6,560 acres.

An estimated price tag of $1.46 billion.

When it comes to construction projects, they don’t get much bigger for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ St. Paul District than the proposed North Dakota-side flood diversion for Fargo-Moorhead.

In fact, if the diversion becomes reality, it could challenge for the rank of the most expensive project ever built by the district.

That title is currently held by the Mississippi River 9-foot channel navigation project.

The project, which was mostly completed in the mid-1930s and involved building 13 locks and dams for ship passage, carried a price tag of $93.5 million.

Based on the value of a dollar in 1935, that would be about $1.49 billion today, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator, which is based on the Consumer Price Index.

But the Mississippi River project would likely cost even more than that.

As corps Program Analyst Jim Stadelman pointed out, just one lock-and-dam rehab project is costing $78.6 million, ranking it fifth on the district’s list of most expensive projects.

The district covers about 139,000 square miles in five states, including most of Minnesota, the northeastern half of North Dakota, the western half of Wisconsin and small portions of Iowa and South Dakota.

Rounding out its top five highest-priced projects:

Stadelman said the F-M diversion would “by far” be the district’s biggest project of his lifetime. He said he didn’t know how it would rank among corps projects nationally but added, “It’s certainly right up there, I would think.”

To put the proposed North Dakota diversion, which is the preferred option by local officials, in perspective, The Forum looked at how it would stack up against some of the nation’s most notable feats of civil engineering.

It’s by no means a perfect comparison, as the CPI inflation calculator doesn’t account for technological advances in construction methods, changes in building codes, modern environmental regulations, etc.

Still, it gives a sense of the scope of these engineering marvels in comparison to the proposed diversion.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528