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Published October 16 2013

Forum editorial: Goodbye to the mad dash

It always seemed a far-fetched notion that a floodwall to protect downtown Fargo would be combined with a $44 million tunnel under part of Second Street. The city investigated the idea, floated by a university landscaping class, but wisely discarded it when leaders voted Monday to take a big step toward eliminating the need for pall-mall scrambles to build temporary clay dikes for every major flood.

The Fargo City Commission voted 4-0 to move ahead with a downtown floodwall project that preserves Second Street as a north-south arterial serving the city’s northeast corner. The floodwall will be a huge step forward in protecting the city center against major floods that have become a costly and disruptive spring ritual, necessitating traffic detours and closing part of Second Street, on which 12,000 cars travel daily.

In rejecting the tunnel, city commissioners listened to people who responded to a survey, in which fewer than one in four respondents favored the 740-foot tunnel on Second Street in front of City Hall. The city has approved hiring an urban landscape architecture firm to help design green space associated with the floodwall, which will have removable panels to keep the area more open when there is no threat of flooding. Downtown advocates want to see “abundant green space” and a river corridor that is integrated with nearby areas that mix commercial and residential uses.

Work will start on the floodwall next year, and the project should be completed within a year. The floodwall will be needed even if a diversion channel is built to protect Fargo-Moorhead against a 500-year flood, since significant flows still would be carried on the Red River.

This is a big deal. It’s remarkable – and not in a good way – that downtown Fargo and vital infrastructure important to the city and region have been in such a precarious position, reliant on emergency levees that can begin construction only when the river reaches a certain level, a race against the clock that leaves little margin for inclement weather that could hamper or even shut down dike building.

By necessity, Fargo has been immersed for much of the past four years in strengthening its protection against catastrophic floods. But it’s good to see that, at the same time, the city is proceeding with plans for a new downtown City Hall and associated efforts to reinvigorate the city core while integrating it with the river corridor – two important efforts that join together in the flood wall project now forging ahead. As Commissioner Mike Williams observed, the city is “honing in on some beautiful plans.”

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