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Published January 12 2011

Forum editorial: Moorhead needs old I-94 ramps

Members of the Moorhead City Council should resist the apparent bullying by state and federal governments regarding old and new Interstate 94 access ramps into the city. A new interchange has been in the works for years. It was opened a few weeks ago. At the same time, the old access ramps were barricaded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation in accordance, MnDOT said, with federal regulations that require old ramps too close to the new interchange to be abandoned.

Barricading the old ramps has created a firestorm of protest from businesses and other interests because access without the ramps is very difficult. The new interchange features loops and ramps that effectively cut off easy access to those businesses. At the same time, other tracts of potential development land are more easily accessed because of the new interchange.

The council is unanimous in wanting the old ramps reopened. As the project proceeded, council members apparently were assured that a 2008 act of Congress authorized federal projects to keep and refurbish old ramps. The wording gives the city authority to keep the ramps open, said council members Mark Hintermeyer, Luther Stueland and Brenda Elmer. If that’s the case, the conflict is with federal and state policy that requires old ramp closure. Because of the congressional act, business interests negatively affected by the closure urged the council to immediately reopen the old ramps.

Not so fast, said City Attorney Brian Neugebauer, who warned that the conflict between MnDOT’s rules and the action of Congress might be resolved only by a lawsuit that could drag on for years. In that circumstance, the immediate problem would not be solved.

The city has an option or two. First, open the old ramps and let the legal chips fall where they may. At least the businesses (and, we hear, the motorists trying to negotiate the new interchange) would get some relief from what appears to be a bureaucratic and engineering boondoggle of some significance.

Second, council members could let the state and feds kick sand in their faces and get away with it. Meanwhile, Moorhead businesses take a hit, motorists who are comfortable with the old ramps avoid the area, and the city accepts its embarrassing powerlessness over its own welfare.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.