FARGO — Michelle and Jason Forness have lived in their north Fargo home about 16 years, and for much of that time they've tried to convince neighbors that petitioning the city to pave the alley that runs through their block would be a good idea.

For the most part, those efforts fell on deaf ears.

That is until spring 2019, which was an exceptionally wet time for the 1100 block of Third and Fourth Streets North.

Michelle Forness said that when her husband went door to door that spring with yet another petition proposing to pave the gravel alley behind their home, the response was much different than it was in the past.

A gravel alley is covered in puddles during rainfall July 9, 2019, on the 800 block between Second and Third Street North in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
A gravel alley is covered in puddles during rainfall July 9, 2019, on the 800 block between Second and Third Street North in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

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"I think about 85% of the block said they were in favor of it. It was huge," Forness said.

The city ultimately approved the plan and this summer paving work began on the alley behind the Forness home.

"We are very excited about it. I can't wait," Michelle Forness said.

That kind of happy anticipation is a common reaction among residents ready to enjoy the benefits of a newly paved alley, according to Jeremy Engquist, a project manager with the city of Fargo's engineering department.

Engquist said the process to petition the city to have such work done is a straightforward one:

  • Step 1: Make copies of a petition provided by the city and mail or distribute the petition to every property owner on the block.
  • Step 2: If at least 55% of households favor the idea, it is submitted to the city, which will start the design work and present property owners with a cost estimate.
  • If someone feels the price is too high, households are given a 30-day window to protest the project.

If more than 50% of households object, the project dies.

If any protest is equal to or less than 50% of properties, the results will be presented to the Fargo City Commission with a recommendation from the engineering department to proceed with the project.

The City Commission will then make the final decision as to whether or not a project will proceed.

About three paving projects amounting to approximately 1/4-1/2 miles of concrete surface are done each year in Fargo, according to Engquist.

A paved alley in north Fargo. Dave Olson / The Forum
A paved alley in north Fargo. Dave Olson / The Forum

He said the cost for a 50-foot lot can range from $5,500-$6,500 if a storm sewer isn't needed, to $6,500-$7,500 if a storm sewer is required to ensure proper drainage.

Homeowners have 25 years to pay off the special assessment.

Once a project is completed, there is often universal approval, even among property owners who may have opposed the idea of paving, according to Engquist.

"It's the end of the potholes and flooding out garages," Engquist said.

According to Engquist, most alleys in Fargo are gravel or asphalt, with much of the asphalt paving having occurred in the 1980s and 1990s.

That asphalt, he said, is now nearing the end of its useful life and will need replacement.

According to city records, Fargo has about 29 miles of alleys. Of those miles, about 12 miles are gravel, or about 41% of the total.

About 10.5 miles of Fargo's alleys are paved with asphalt, or about 36% of the total. About 6.5 miles of alley surface in Fargo are covered with concrete, or about 23% of the total.

A tiny portion of Fargo's alleys, less than a tenth of a mile, is paved with brick.

Anytime a new alley is created or an old one is resurfaced it is done with concrete, which is essentially maintenance free, Engquist said.

Paul Granum moved into his home in the 400 block of 10th Avenue South in Fargo in 1946 when he was a boy.

Over the years, the gravel alley that runs through his block has deteriorated and drainage has increasingly become a problem, according to Granum, a retired mail carrier.

There have been efforts over the years to have the alley paved, but only recently did property owners come to a consensus that it should be done.

Now, the block is waiting for the protest period to close before a project can proceed, and Granum said he is among those eager to see it completed.

"We're hoping against hope," he said.

The alley "doesn't drain right and it's too narrow," Granum said, referring to the existing gravel alley.

A paving project began this summer for an alley in the 1100 block of Fourth and Third Streets North in Fargo. Dave Olson / The Forum
A paving project began this summer for an alley in the 1100 block of Fourth and Third Streets North in Fargo. Dave Olson / The Forum

Madison Hausauer, a neighbor to the Fornesses, bought her home this past spring.

She said she wasn't involved in the petition process to have the alley on her block paved, but she's delighted a decision was made to do so.

"I'm super excited about it," she said, adding that the city and the contractors working on the alley have been very good to work with.

Engquist said paved alleys provide a number of benefits, including improved aesthetics that encourage residents to make use of them more than they do gravel alleys.

Michelle Forness agreed, but stressed that improved drainage is perhaps the ultimate payoff.

"We just really get bogged up with water back there," she said.

Engquist said anyone interested in finding out more about the city's alley paving process can visit www.fargoalleys.com.