Long-awaited Moorhead rail underpass project down to final month of construction

Paving of the roadways under the rail bridges may start as soon as this week

Crews have been hauling in sand and gravel to form the base of what will be a four-lane roadway on Main Avenue in the new railroad underpass in southeast Moorhead. This is a look at the work on Main Avenue looking southeast.
Barry Amundson / The Forum
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Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of articles published each Sunday night online and in the e-paper on Monday discussing road construction projects and updates as work proceeds this summer in the area. Traffic detours and other issues are also included.

MOORHEAD — The railroad underpass project on the southeast edge of downtown Moorhead is in its final stage with long-standing detour signs around the massive $51 million project scheduled to come down by mid-July when it opens to traffic.

During the past week and continuing this week, sand and gravel for the base is being hauled in and graded for the four-lane roadways running through the underpass.

Concrete paving is likely to start later this week, according to Assistant City Engineer Tom Trowbridge.

Those final stretches of concrete paving will meet up with paving already completed on the outer edges of the project on Main Avenue and 20th and 21st streets. The two streets meet under the bridge with 20th Street to the south and 21st Street to the north.


Trowbridge said it will likely take a good month to complete the concrete work, which also includes a combination of either 6-foot or 10-foot-wide concrete bicycle and pedestrian pathways along the roadway, along with curb and gutter and medians.

The concrete has to be done in steps, he said, and allowed to cure, but the good news is with the base, drain tile and storm sewer in place that any work stoppage because of rain delays would be short.

The only other major part of the project left is the final few retaining walls that surround the underpass that was dug down 30 feet. Trowbridge said the wall construction can be time consuming, too, with support beams and concrete poured in step by step.

Crews were also busy in the past week with other finishing touches such as painting the sides of the two railroad bridges.

Trowbridge said three stoplights are part of the project, with one already operational on Second Avenue South by the entrance to nearby Moorhead High School. Another is also in place on Fourth Avenue South on the southwest corner of the school property, but it isn't operational yet.

The final stoplight will be where Main and the streets intersect under the railroad bridges that carry trains on two tracks.

This is a look of work on 21st Street South where it intersects with Main Avenue and 20th Street in the new Moorhead underpass. Crews are hauling in sand and gravel and removing some dirt to form the base of the new concrete roadways that will likely start to be poured later this week. A worker last week was also painting one of the two railroad bridges (at left, top) as part of the finishing work on the project.
Barry Amundson / The Forum

The project has taken more than a decade of planning and trying to secure funding and then almost five years of construction, although not much work was done in the first year when it closed in the fall of 2018.

Numerous problems have surfaced over the years especially with the temporary railroad tracks and concerns about stabilization and safety issues. Unstable soils common in this region have been the cause of some of the problems.


The project will also include the construction of a new track, called a wye, that will allow direct train movements downtown.

Under existing conditions, trains must travel into the downtown, stop and reverse direction to make some of these movements. The wye will eliminate delays at the downtown crossings associated with trains backing up.

When that work starts, the First Avenue area will be permanently closed to traffic northwest of the new underpass.

When traffic begins flowing on the new underpass roadways, more attention will turn to another downtown underpass that could cost twice as much on 11th Street that will go underneath two sets of tracks north of Main Avenue.

Full-scale construction on that underpass could start in two or three years but is dependent on final funding and planning, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which is the lead on that project.

At the last Moorhead City Council meeting, in a further development for downtown Moorhead's future, Trowbridge received unanimous approval to begin a more intense study and plans for upgrading two more blocks of Center Avenue from Eighth Street to 10th Street.

He said with four blocks of Center Avenue being reconstructed from the Red River to Eighth Street this summer and the new underpass project to start on Center Avenue near 10th Street and meet up with the newly constructed 11th Street that it made "no sense to leave an old piece of road sandwiched" between the other upgraded stretches of the avenue.

He said the city plans to coordinate the two-block stretch of work on Center Avenue with the 11th Street underpass to minimize traffic disruptions.


Meanwhile, Trowbridge said his team was having a preconstruction conference this week on this summer's Center Avenue project, which is a major part of the plan to revitalize downtown. He said work will start in early June although he didn't have a firm date yet. The project will shut down that river bridge crossing from Fargo's NP Avenue into Moorhead's Center Avenue.


South Fargo streets: Contractors have begun repaving streets in south Fargo.

This Tuesday, May 31, crews will begin repaving with asphalt on 25th Street South between Fiechtner Drive and 13th Avenue South. The street will be closed for one day for the work.

Similar work was completed last Friday on Ninth Avenue South between 25th Street and 27th streets.

40th Avenue South and Bishops Boulevard: Beginning Tuesday, May 31, contractors will begin doing concrete spot repairs on 40th Avenue South between 43rd Street South and 45th Street South for two weeks. Vehicles will be detoured via 42nd Street South. Both lanes of Bishops Boulevard will also be closed to through traffic between 52nd Avenue and 56th avenues south for two weeks. Vehicles will be detoured via 25th Street South. Sections of roadway will be reopened once the new concrete has met the required designed strength.

Fifth Avenue South: Beginning Tuesday, May 31, the avenue will be closed for up to 10 days between 15th and 16th streets for crews to permanently patch the concrete roadway and to allow time for the new concrete to achieve design strength.


Summerlong project: A contractor for the city will be re-striping city streets throughout the summer intermittently and may cause traffic disruptions or delays.

Re-striping keeps lanes, parking and directional lines visible and vibrant for drivers and pedestrians.

Motorists are urged to slow down and keep a safe distance between your vehicle and construction crews and equipment.


Bill Panos, director of the North Dakota Department of Transportation, said in a "kickoff to the construction season" that about $500 million in projects are being done on state highways.

In the Fargo district, the projects include installing median concrete barriers and guardrails on Interstate 94 from Interstate 29 in Fargo to Sheyenne Street in West Fargo, reconstruction of North Dakota Highway 11 through the city of Hankinson, and the Interstate 29 reconstruction project of the northbound lanes in the Hillsboro area.

Panos, the North Dakota Highway Patrol and Associated Contractors of North Dakota urge motorists to slow down in construction zones, stay alert and be patient.

"Construction workers provide a valuable service in enhancing safety by improving roadways, but at the end of the day, they go home to children, spouses, friends and family," said Sgt. Darcy Aberle of the highway patrol. "Motorists need to respect the work these crews do and respect them by driving cautiously so they can go home and be part of our communities. Be patient, slow down and obey all construction signs."

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