MOORHEAD – The last driver to pay a toll to cross the river in north Fargo and Moorhead will be unknown even to himself.
In the confusion of the ownership transfer from the private company that owned the bridge to the two cities, the owners abruptly shut down the toll booth two hours ahead of the agreed schedule on Friday.
Some drivers continued to toss the 75 cent toll in the basket while others waited patiently for the booth to reopen to get change.
The two men who had been in the booth shuttered it soon after receiving paperwork from a messenger about noon.
They refused to talk to a reporter on the scene.
Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams said that’s about the time the city got the bridge’s register of deeds.
“It’s been a long time coming,” she said at a news conference at the Moorhead Center Mall.
A toll has been collected on the bridge linking 12th Avenue North in Fargo to 15th Avenue North in Moorhead since it was built by the Bridge Co. nearly three decades ago. Moorhead filed suit two years ago after the company’s contract with the cities expired. The city won that suit.
Council member Nancy Otto, whose ward lies in the north end, said her constituents didn’t feel it was fair that the bridge in their neighborhood was the only one in the city with a toll.
The toll booth will remain on the bridge until Tuesday, when workers will remove it, Williams said.
Williams, several City Council members and Fargo’s acting mayor, Tim Mahoney, announced the end of the toll Friday.
The city leaders agreed the change was more popular with residents of north Moorhead than north Fargo.
Otto said many of her constituents have jobs in north Fargo, commuting to the industrial park, North Dakota State University and Sanford Health.
Others mentioned National Guard members headed to the airport, and softball players headed to Mickelson Park.
Mahoney said he and other leaders have heard concerns from homeowners near the bridge about additional traffic, though projections suggest there won’t be many more vehicles.
But he added that north Fargo residents have friends in north Moorhead that they visit, too.
The 2010 Census shows that about 8,600 people live in northwest Moorhead and 22,200 in northeast Fargo, the areas closest to the bridge.
Mahoney said the bridge probably has about 50 years of life left and a new one probably wouldn’t be built because of the cost of getting a new bridge built high above the flood level.
Otto said no one knows how what the north end’s population will be then. “Never say never,” she said.
Moorhead City Council member Mike Hulett, who, along with Otto, authorized the lawsuit in 2011, said he’s still a little miffed that the city of Fargo didn’t join Moorhead. In fact, Fargo joined with Bridge Co. to resist the lawsuit, he said, though he acknowledged that north Fargo residents’ traffic worries probably had something to do with it.
The Bridge Co. had until 2004 to recoup the cost of bridge construction, but asked for and received an extension until 2009. After the company asked for a second extension, the city of Moorhead decided to sue.
A judge ruled for the city in November, but the Bridge Co. appealed. The appeal process will not end until May and there’s always the chance of a reversal. That’s why the toll booth will go into storage rather than be sold or scrapped, Williams said.
The ownership transfer came Friday because that was the deadline the judge set for the company to pay a $320,000 bond to retain ownership through the appeal process. The judge set the bond in case the company loses its appeal and must pay the cities for damages suffered from residents not being able to use the bridge for free during the appeal period.
Mahoney and Williams said the cities won’t have to pay the Bridge Co. lost tolls if the company prevails.