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Dave Olson, Published December 13 2010

Interchange discussion ramps up in Moorhead

Moorhead’s new Interstate 94 interchange at 34th Street and southeast Main Avenue is set to open on Thursday.

When it does, elements of the old interchange and some nearby roads will close, due to rules set by the Federal Highway Administration.

Federal officials say their policies don’t allow more than one interchange to operate in the same area because it can create congestion and cause drivers to weave and swerve as cars leave and enter roadways.

Closing the old ramps at southeast Main Avenue has some landowners in the area upset because it will make access to some commercial and development property more difficult.

The Hardy Family Limited Partnership, which bought land in the area several years ago, sent city officials a letter in August urging them to keep the old ramps.

Citing its own holdings, as well as property owned by Menards, the letter states that closing the old ramps to southeast Main Avenue “will have a decidedly inverse effect on the economics of future businesses located on either property.”

The newly formed Moorhead Business Association is also advocating for retention of the ramps.

City officials say they are agreeable to keeping the old ramps and are working with the Metropolitan Council of Governments on a study that will analyze what effect the old ramps may have on traffic and the environment if allowed to operate with the new interchange.

The federal government will only allow the old ramps to be used if the study shows that, at a minimum, the ramps won’t harm the operation of the interstate, said Bob Zimmerman, Moorhead’s city engineer.

“And what they (federal officials) are telling us is they want to see a benefit,” he added.

The MetroCOG study could be complete sometime in February, Zimmerman said.

Some property owners in the area would prefer that the old ramps never be used again.

The PROffutt Limited Partnership opposes any change in the current interchange plan.

In October, an attorney representing the partnership told the Moorhead City Council that the interests he represented were willing to pay special assessments totaling more than $1 million with the understanding that the old ramps stay closed.

“It’s a large amount of money, but my client will pay it,” said Mark Hanson, an attorney with the Nilles Law Firm.

Several City Council members have made it clear they want staff to continue to explore ways to keep the old ramps open.

Nancy Otto said the ramps are important to a lot of people and a lot of businesses.

“I thought we had that nailed down,” she said at a recent council meeting.

Zimmerman said the idea behind building the new interchange was one of safety; it will allow traffic to reach a major growth area in Moorhead without having to cross Otter Tail Valley Railroad lines.

“It really was in recognition of the fact future development is going to be taking place east of 34th Street,” he said.

Zimmerman said if the old ramps are closed, it will result in a more complicated route for trucks trying to reach Moorhead’s old industrial park, as well as for drivers trying to reach Menards.

He also said if the old ramps are closed, traffic to the old industrial park and the Menards area will have to cross railroad tracks it currently doesn’t have to.

“From our perspective, it (keeping the ramps open) makes a lot of sense, in terms of minimizing the number of times people have to cross the track,” Zimmerman said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555