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Kyle Potter, Published September 03 2013

Metro leaders start working on plan to deal with traffic congestion

FARGO – Extra bridges over the Red River, more bike paths and maybe even a bypass or beltway circling the metro could be in the Fargo-Moorhead area’s future infrastructure plans.

Regional leaders are starting to lay out their next 30-year plan to make sure roads and highways keep up with the area’s growth, and one thing is clear: The current network will only work for so long.

If the metro area’s population continues to grow as projected – from about 210,000 today to nearly 300,000 by 2040 – the Metropolitan Council of Governments expects heavy congestion on main thoroughfares such Interstates 94 and 29 and chunks of Eighth Street in Moorhead and University Drive in Fargo.

MetroCOG’s modeling shows that congested traffic could cut the average travel speed metrowide from 40.3 mph to 27.5 mph by 2040.

“We’re going to need to try to figure out how to keep our interstates moving,” said Wade Kline, MetroCOG’s executive director.

One solution, though costly and far-fetched, is a bypass.

With a price tag between $2 million and $4 million a mile, Kline said it would make the other necessary infrastructure improvements impossible to fund. There are more highway interchanges to build and bridge crossings to construct, each which may help ease congestion.

Plus, Fargo City Commissioner Mike Williams said southern Fargo will need more attention as it continues to grow.

The better option, Kline said, might be to coax more eastbound and westbound drivers to use 52nd Avenue rather than I-94.

Traffic officials in Fargo and Moorhead agreed that the cost makes a beltway a longshot – at least by 2040 – but it’s something they’ll keep their eyes on down the road.

Williams said a bypass or beltway is not a priority for the City Commission in the next 20 years, but commissioners will look to secure the land for a potential bypass or beltway.

“If it comes to that point, we have that land in hand so we don’t have to acquire it later,” he said.

MetroCOG is tasked with developing the 30-year transportation plan for the metro area. Kline said they’re seeking input from residents on the area’s infrastructure needs at three open house sessions next week.

Existing needs

Fargo traffic engineer Jeremy Gorden said a beltway or bypass “would be a grandiose plan, but I don’t think it’s feasible.”

“I don’t see where the funding would come from to enable us to do that,” he added.

Like others, Gorden stressed the need to focus on improving existing infrastructure rather than new construction.

Among his top priorities is a river crossing on the south side of town, perhaps at 76th Avenue South. Kline said MetroCOG is also considering converting the toll bridge at 12th Avenue North into a more heavily trafficked river crossing.

Gorden said he also wants to see a bike path that runs from Hector International Airport to the Pepsi Soccer Complex near the airport, and another along 17th Avenue South.

In Moorhead, City Engineer Bob Zimmerman said the biggest issue is train traffic. The solution? More underpasses.

Zimmerman said the city hopes to build an underpass at Main Avenue and 21st Street, and maybe another near where Main Avenue intersects with 11th Street.

If you go

Moorhead MetroCOG Summit

When: 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Hjemkomst Center, 202 1st Ave. N.

Fargo MetroCOG Summit

When: 8 to 10:30 a.m. Sept. 11

Where: Fargo City Commission Chambers, 200 3rd St. N.

West Fargo MetroCOG Summit

When: 6 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 11

Where: West Fargo City Commission Chambers, 800 4th Ave. E.

For more information: Visit www.metro2040.com

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Kyle Potter at (701) 241-5502