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$13M update to Fargo's 32nd Avenue to make busy road more pedestrian friendly

$13 million project will remake parts of busy arterial road

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A major reconstruction project is planned next year on a 10-block stretch of 32nd Avenue South, seen here Wednesday, June 16, 2021. The stretch runs from near Essentia Health hospital, seen at the right, to near the Sanford Southpointe Clinic on 22nd Street. Barry Amundson / The Forum

FARGO — Adjustments have been approved to make busy 32nd Avenue South in Fargo more pedestrian friendly after a reconstruction project slated to begin next April.

The Fargo City Commission had a rather lengthy discussion and disagreement a month ago and again on Monday, July 12, about ways to make the roadway that runs past Essentia Health hospital and the huge Sanford Southpointe Clinic more friendly to bikers and walkers or move traffic faster.

Either way, the roadway that carries about 19,250 vehicles per day from near Interstate 29 to busy 25th Street South is sorely in need of repair.

Commissioners made a decision on the final design Monday, and the plans will start to be finalized soon. Work on the first phase of the two-year, federally funded $13.1 million project is slated to start in the spring.

City engineers Brenda Derrig, Jeremy Gorden and Tom Knakmuhs presented a plan updated with input from commissioners, the public and other city departments on Monday.

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Under the updated plan, the city will narrow driving lanes from 12 to 11 feet and reduce the 19-foot middle lane and median area to a 12-foot middle turning lane. With those changes in place, the city will be able to create more boulevard space, widen the south sidewalk, keep existing trees and allow the option to plant more trees.

The changes will reduce the 5-lane road from 71 feet to 60 feet, providing less crossing distance for pedestrians.

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A cross-section of 32nd Avenue South in Fargo in its current state, top, and after the changes approved Monday, July 12. The roadway from curb to curb will go from 71 feet down to 60 feet. City of Fargo / Special to The Forum

Narrowing the lanes will also cause "traffic calming," encouraging drivers to slow down, said Gorden, the city's traffic engineer. That will help make the road safer, which was a top concern.

The median from about 32nd Street South to 25th Street South will be replaced with a flush middle turning lane applied for several blocks instead of short, cut-in turn lanes into the median.

The city could install potential planting islands where the center turn lanes aren't needed, Gorden said.

A right-turn lane for westbound motorists traveling onto 25th Street to go north will be eliminated to provide more boulevard space and improve the safety by shortening crosswalk lengths at that heavily traveled intersection.

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The broader boulevard would also create a larger buffer between vehicles and foot traffic, creating a friendlier pedestrian environment and providing more snow storage, Gorden said.

Updates to the existing street lighting, most of which is from the late 1980s, will also help increase safety, he said.

"We're probably going to double the amount of street lighting and go to LED," Gorden said, noting that would also reduce energy usage.

The second phase of the project, from 22nd Street South to University Drive in front of Hornbacher's, will be completed in 2024.

Commissioner Tony Gehrig was against some of the changes as he worried about rush hour traffic on the avenue.

"No right turn lane to go north on 25th is substantial," he said. "I think a lot of people aren't going to like that."

However, Gorden said, removing the right-hand turn lane on 25th Street South and not adding one on 28th Street would cause a minor delay, "but it's not going to be significant."

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