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Wendy Reuer, Published April 23 2012

Moorhead to ask residents to help fund I-94 ramp projects

MOORHEAD – Residents here will be asked to help pay for part of a project that will re-install the ramps at Southeast Main Avenue and Interstate 94.

Although the Minnesota Department of Transportation will manage the project, the city is on the hook for the entire $3 million cost.

While the city unanimously approved moving forward with the project Monday evening so that construction can begin this summer, City Manager Michael Redlinger stressed that the final funding formula is not set. A special assessment hearing will be heard after construction is finished this fall.

“We’re about a year, year and a half out from an assessment hearing,” Redlinger said.

To pay for the project, an initial proposal calls for the city to assess 20 percent of the cost ($600,000) and pay the remaining 80 percent, or $2.4 million, out of its general property tax levy.

“That would be incorporated in a future budget,” said City Engineer Bob Zimmerman.

If the city eventually chooses to use bonds as a source of revenue for the project, at least 20 percent of the project would still have to be paid for through special assessments, according to state law. If it does use bonds, property taxes could go up $2 to $3 per year on the average $140,000 Moorhead home, Zimmerman said.

The proposed special assessment model would assess the average single-family residential lot about $225. Special assessments would be charged to 1,485 parcels in the assessment district that is roughly between 20th Street and southeast Main Avenue, 28th Street South to Main Avenue as well as Fifth Avenue South to 43rd Avenue South.

Joel Johnson, vice president of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, and Ken Lucier, a member of the finance committee at Calvary Church at Village Green, both said Monday that their respective churches object to the special assessments because there will be no benefit to the churches due to the project.

“There will be no increase in market value to the church from this project,” Johnson said.

Johnson and Lucier also questioned if the city’s assessment methodology was legal.

However, businesses in the area have said they saw a negative impact on traffic once the ramps closed. A-1 Auto owner Bruce Bekkrus urged the council not to let a funding model prevent the council from moving forward with ramp construction.

“Please, please don’t let this lag on. Take your leap of faith here and move on,” Bekkrus said Monday.

The ramps were first closed by order of federal officials, who said the interchange did not meet modern standards and was too close to the new interchange at 34th Street and southeast Main Avenue, which opened in December 2010.

After fighting for the ramps for most of 2011, the city received the OK from the Federal Highway Administration in November to construct a partial interchange consisting of a westbound on-ramp and an eastbound off-ramp from Interstate 94 to Southeast Main Avenue.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530