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Patrick Springer, Published September 30 2010

Changes should ease south Fargo traffic

Drivers who find themselves stuck in rush-hour traffic in south Fargo on the city’s main north-south corridors can take heart.

Part of the problem may be displaced traffic from Fifth Street South, where construction has diverted 5,000 cars a day to South University Drive, 25th Street and other thoroughfares.

Work on the Fifth Street project will stop around Nov. 1 for the winter construction lull, giving drivers who depend on that route a reprieve until construction resumes.

Longer term, a project is in the planning pipeline to widen Fargo’s 25th Street from 17th to 23rd avenues south, with a targeted completion date of 2014.

Also, city traffic engineers are considering widening a stretch of South University Drive, adding an extra driving lane to the 1600 and 1700 blocks to handle more traffic.

Traffic volume continues to grow in south Fargo, a byproduct of continued development on the city’s south side and limited routes, said Jeremy Gordon, Fargo’s traffic engineer.

East of Interstate 29, north-south traffic is concentrated in two main corridors, 25th Street and University Drive, both of which offer access to Interstate 94.

Congestion probably is most evident on 25th Street, particularly as drivers must wait to exit onto Interstate 94, backing up traffic for blocks during peak times.

“Obviously that’s a real bottleneck,” said Wade Kline, who is involved in transportation planning as executive director of the Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Council of Governments.

Kline not only studies traffic congestion in Fargo-Moorhead. He experiences it every weekday after work when he picks up his son from day care.

His route takes him through one of Fargo’s most congested corridors – 25th Street, where stop-and-go traffic can produce cumulative waits of 20 to 40 minutes during rush-hour commutes, he said.

The 25th Street congestion problem should be lessened when the expansion is completed around 2014, Gordon said.

Traffic volume on the street, with four traffic lanes, now is about 30,000 vehicles a day north of I-94, 25,000 south of the interstate.

By comparison, six-lane South University Drive handles 34,500 vehicles a day north of I-94, and 32,300 south of the interstate.

Both corridors are approaching the end of the design life of expansion projects completed almost 20 years ago, said Kevin Gorder, assistant engineer for the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s Fargo district.

“We haven’t really addressed them for a long time,” Gordon said of the two north-south routes.

Even as plans take shape on drawing boards for expanded streets and highways, experts agree more also must be done to effectively manage traffic – more bus routes, ride sharing, staggered work times and telecommuting.

“That’s all a part of the mix,” Kline said. “There’s a need for more innovation.”

During major construction projects, some large employers already have experimented with altered work hours so shifts don’t coincide with peak traffic times, Gorder said. Those kinds of altered or staggered schedules could be made permanent, he said.

Also, telecommuting, at least during certain days, appears to be gradually catching on. “It’s not going to work for everybody,” Gorder added, giving health care workers as an example.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation has spent $150 million to $160 million on construction projects in Fargo over the past decade, Gorder said. It’s unclear, he added, whether that level of funding will be available in the future.

To stretch transportation dollars, the state is doing more preventive maintenance to lengthen the lifespan of pavement, Gorder added. Seal coating costs $31,000 per mile of interstate, for example, compared to $1.7 million per mile of new pavement.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522