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Robb Jeffries, Published September 23 2013

Uncertainty doesn’t derail Grand Forks bridge projects

Two Grand Forks area bridges are scheduled to be renovated or replaced by the end of the decade, but federal funding uncertainty has some state and municipal officials worried about the fate of the two projects.

The Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Metropolitan Planning Organization has the Kennedy Bridge scheduled to be renovated or replaced in 2016, and the Sorlie Bridge is scheduled for 2018 work. Planning for both the projects is still in its early stages, but a full replacement of the Kennedy Bridge is estimated to cost $25 million, while replacing the Sorlie Bridge could cost up to $29 million.

Earl Haugen, executive director of the MPO, said those are the upper-end costs, and estimates for renovating the two bridges are not available yet because it is still unclear how much work needs to be done on the bridges.

“They’re both still in the stage that any and all options are still on the table,” he said. “Doing nothing is still an option, as well as doing the minimum amount of repairs to get them by.”

For example, potential Kennedy Bridge improvements are replacing a pier or the deck, fixing chipped concrete and corroded steel reinforcement or just removing rust and repainting it, according to the two state departments of transportation.

Greater Grand Forks’ two other bridges, the Point Bridge over the Red and the Louis Murray across the Red Lake, have had recent work and no new projects are planned, Haugen said.

Haugen said the projects might be in jeopardy, as Congress’ inability to settle on funding for this year has put all future projects in question.

“There’s all sorts of politics going on there,” he said. “There is a heightened sense of concern here.”

There is always a bit of uncertainty when planning future projects, said Les Noehre, Grand Forks district engineer for the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

“The only thing we can do is go by the picture we have today,” he said. “But, it could always change.”

Meanwhile, the MPO and transportation departments are pressing on, forming an advisory committee and holding public meetings to learn more about the needs and wants of the community for each bridge.

“We are really looking for public comment,” Noehre said. “The earlier we get input, the earlier we can evaluate all the issues and desires the community has.”

The advisory committee will finish its study in late November or early December this year.

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Call Jeffries at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1105; or send email to rjeffries@gfherald.com.