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Cars pass over the 11th street south railroad tracks in Moorhead, Minn., Monday, June 23, 2014. The street is one of two locations in Moorhead where a new underpass could be constructed. Nick Wagner / The Forum

Moorhead council OKs first phase of downtown underpass study

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MOORHEAD – City Council members here signed off Monday on a new plan to eventually build another railroad underpass in downtown Moorhead.

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The first phase of a study approved by the council with an 8-0 vote would better position Moorhead to apply for future funding opportunities to help build a roughly $35 million underpass in the downtown core, said City Engineer Bob Zimmerman.

For years, residents and elected officials have been frustrated by downtown gridlock caused by the increasing train traffic. The first phase of the study will cost about $266,455, and the entire study could cost up to $1 million, according to council documents.

“This is a long process and essentially what staff is recommending is we have to start on it now if there is ever a hope in the foreseeable future to build this project,” Zimmerman told council members.

The study would include preliminary engineering and preparation of required environmental documentation under the National Environmental Policy Act. The Metropolitan Council of Governments will lead the first phase, which is set to begin this month and will include data collection, traffic forecasting, public input, cost-benefit analysis and a preliminary environmental review.

The city will pay $75,000 for the first phase. The Minnesota Department of Transportation would pay $50,000 and MetroCOG would cover $141,455. The first phase will be completed by September 2015.

The cost of phase two will not be known until phase one is completed, according to council documents. MetroCOG will also be unable to participate beyond phase one and any future MnDOT cost-sharing is not known, council documents say.

Zimmerman warned that the next phase of the project would be significantly more dollars, into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“But you really don’t have a project until you get through those steps,” he said.

The city completed a feasibility study in 2008, which showed a railroad underpass would work best at 11th Street, although 14th Street was also identified as a possible location. While that feasibility study provided valuable information, Zimmerman said it is not sufficient to serve as a basis for seeking funding.

To have any chance at funding, the project needs to have environmental documentation and, ideally, be near or through final design, Zimmerman said. There has been significant national, state and local attention on railroad issues recently, so new funding opportunities for an underpass may soon arise, according to council documents.

Councilwoman Nancy Otto asked if businesses along the railroad tracks that would be affected by a possible underpass would be contacted as part of the study. Zimmerman said there will be significant public outreach. The city’s share of phase one of the study will be funded through municipal state aid maintenance funds, he said. 

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Erik Burgess
Erik Burgess covers city and county government for The Forum. He started as the paper's night reporter in 2012, after graduating from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. He was born and raised in Grand Forks, N.D., and also spent time interning at the Grand Forks Herald.  Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com
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