MOORHEAD — The Seventh District's new U.S. Representative Michelle Fischbach said she visited Moorhead on Thursday, June 3, to "begin a conversation" during her first year on the job to learn about issues and concerns.
Moorhead city officials primarily wanted to discuss infrastructure and whether federal aid could help with several projects during the meeting at the Hjemkomst Center. The main project on their agenda was an estimated $114 million railroad underpass under tracks downtown.
Governmental Affairs Director Lisa Bode told the Republican congresswoman who defeated longtime Rep. Collin Peterson last year that she was seeking Fischbach's support in fighting for a federal grant to bridge the gap between $65 million given in a recent state bonding bill and the estimated cost.
The city applied for a grant from the federal Department of Transportation seven times, she said, and was rated on the list as "highly recommended."
Federal transportation staff favored providing aid in the last round of grants, Bode said, but they learned a "political review" of projects left Moorhead out. They are requesting $23 million in this year's application, she said.
Another opportunity for more aid could come if a bipartisan agreement is reached on President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan being debated in Washington this month.
In an interview with The Forum, Fischbach, who is well aware of the talks, said she would support more aid to Moorhead. She said she wants the bill restricted to "roads and bridges" and not such issues as home health care.
Biden's plan for $1.7 trillion in infrastructure aid has only about 8% of it going to roads and bridges, she added.
Moorhead could use federal aid for other transportation infrastructure projects, Bode said, including a bicycle and pedestrian bridge between Fargo and Moorhead near the Bluestem Amphitheater and Center Avenue reconstruction next to the struggling Moorhead Center Mall.
At least three developers are interested in working in the mall area, she said, adding a reconstructed road would be a boost to that area.
City leaders also told Fischbach there is a need for aid or action on affordable housing.
The congresswoman felt differently about the issue. During her weekslong tour of the sprawling Seventh District that stretches from Canada to near the Iowa border, she said, she found towns need more "market rate" housing instead of low-income housing.
Bode and Community Development Director Kristie Leshovky said that's needed in fast-growing Moorhead, too, but there's also a need for affordable housing, especially for low-income senior citizens.
City Manager Dan Mahli told Fischbach the city is in one of the top five fastest-growing counties in Minnesota, and that affects housing and transportation.
The city grew from about 38,000 residents in 2010 to what they believe will be about 45,000 residents in the latest census, he said.
Mahli said he believes the city is only going to "flourish more in the next decade."
During her interview, Fischbach said she wishes former President Donald Trump would "make a decision" about whether he will run for office again. She said he did some "very good things" on tax policy and in Israel during his term.
She noted she was ready to "move on" from the last election and concentrate on helping the district's residents.