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Future of North Broadway bridge murky as inflation hammers costs

Originally slated to cost $7.5 million, construction inflation over the last 18 months would force the city to obtain an additional $3 million, according to city documents.

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North Broadway Bridge as pictured from above.
Submitted photo / City of Fargo
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FARGO — While Fargo has not yet decided on the fate of the 30-year-old North Broadway bridge, which closed in February 2021 due to safety concerns , the rapidly inflated construction costs have complicated the decision to no end.

Originally slated to cost $7.5 million, construction inflation over the last 18 months would force the city to obtain an additional $3 million, according to city documents.

In that scenario, Fargo would pay $2.35 million, Clay County would pay $3.75 million and the federal government would pay $5.4 million, city documents indicate.

The Fargo City Commission first voted to apply for federal funding to bankroll the bridge’s replacement in November of 2021, according to Fargo’s traffic engineer Jeremy Gorden.

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Option one outlines replacing the current bridge as-is.
Submitted photo / City of Fargo

Three options are on the table for the city, which include either replacing the bridge as-is for $10.5 million, raise the bridge above the diversion flows for $21 million, or choose not to replace the bridge at all.

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The current bridge is 350 feet long, Gorden said, and if they rebuilt the structure above the diversion, it would need to be 1,250 feet long, rivaling the Interstate 94 bridge in length.

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As pictured, rebuilding the North Broadway bridge above the floodplain would greatly extend the bridge's length.
Submitted photo / City of Fargo

“This is a huge mistake to build infrastructure in the diversion,” said Commissioner Dave Piepkorn at the City Commission meeting Monday, Jan. 23. Piepkorn wants to replace the bridge but build it outside of the flood zone.

A long-term investment, Piepkorn predicts future traffic in the area will increase and, if not replaced, will cause a stream of disturbances to the neighborhood the current detour routes traffic through.

Weighing the cost of construction against the bridge’s current usage numbers, Commissioner Arlette Preston does not want to rebuild the bridge at all. The Broadway bridge is a lower trafficked bridge, Gorden noted.

“We need to look at our priorities here and this in my mind would not be one of them,” Preston said, suggesting the city pursue a cost/benefit analysis for making the detour more permanent.

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Detour route when North Broadway bridge is closed.
Submitted photo / City of Fargo

Such changes, Preston said, would make the increased traffic easier for the community by adjusting the roadway and adding additional traffic features.

“I just have a difficult time seeing my personal professional vote going with any construction within the floodplain,” Commissioner John Strand said.

Since 1907, the Broadway bridge has been closed 1.4% of the time due to flooding, city officials state, leading Commissioner Denise Kolpack to see the existing bridge replaced as-is. She notes that while she can’t justify doubling the project’s price tag, residents in the area have expressed that they want a bridge in that spot.

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Commissioners were split Monday on which approach was the best fit.

“To get these answers, we really need to invest in the environmental documents,” City Engineer Brenda Derrig said.

The cost to hire a consultant to pursue answers to the cost/benefit analysis, along with the environmental documents, would be roughly $500,000, Gorden said.

Any further action on the Broadway bridge will likely come after commissioners receive such answers. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Strand said.

In a 4-1 vote, with Preston against, the City Commission voted to authorize city staff to obtain said documents and postpone their decision until then. Derrig estimates the city will need to make a final decision around a year from now.

“Let's look at a study and get those answers,” Mayor Tim Mahoney added.

On the topic of bridges, Gordon presented the City Commission with an update on the pedestrian bridge that would cross over the Red River at 40th Avenue South in Fargo to the Bluestem Center for the Arts and the Trollwood Performing Arts School in Moorhead.

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Pedestrian bridge that would cross over the Red River at 40th Avenue South in Fargo to the Bluestem Center for the Arts and the Trollwood Performing Arts School in Moorhead.
Submitted photo / City of Fargo

Not immune to rising construction costs, this pedestrian bridge’s price tag has inflated from $4 million to $10 million in 2027, according to city documents.

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“The pedestrian bridge (is) pretty expensive,” Preston said. “Is that typical?”

“I agree, 10 million dollars is an incredible amount,” said Gorden, who's already having conversations with the consultant about moving the bridge’s location to somewhere where the banks of the river are less steep. This will allow for a simpler, more affordable build.

Fargo is partnering with Moorhead to fund the project. If it moved ahead with its $10 million price tag, Fargo would pay $1.04 million, Moorhead would pay $4.8 million and the federal government would pay $4.16 million, city documents indicate.

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