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F-M urban sprawl ahead?: Area officials considering options after report predicts congestion

If you think getting around Fargo-Moorhead is difficult now, just wait until 2030. Urban sprawl - with its congested traffic between spread-out destinations - could be a big problem 25 years from now, according to a report from the Fargo-Moorhead...

Growing metro area

If you think getting around Fargo-Moorhead is difficult now, just wait until 2030.

Urban sprawl - with its congested traffic between spread-out destinations - could be a big problem 25 years from now, according to a report from the Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Council of Governments.

Careful planning and as much as $750 million in federal aid will be needed to keep local roads and streets from heavy congestion as the metro area grows, the report finds.

"Some people might say, 'Why worry about 25 years in the future?' But now is the time to start planning," said Wade Klein, a MetroCOG planner who helped prepare the report.

The report is intended to press the case for early planning. It's not an exhaustive look ahead at the Fargo-Moorhead of 2030, but some of its projections are noteworthy:


E The Fargo-Moorhead urban area will be 35 percent larger geographically. Fargo and West Fargo will continue to shoot off growth, like runners from a plant, south and north. Moorhead will push south, too.

E The population will be larger. Fargo will add about 30,000 residents, West Fargo 7,000 and Moorhead 4,000.

E The metropolitan area will add about 39,000 jobs over the next 25 years. The type and nature of the new jobs aren't projected.

E The combination of more people, more jobs and greater distances will double the number of in-town vehicle miles traveled annually, according to the report.

Think of it this way: For every mile driven in the metro area today, two miles will be driven in 2030.

If anything, the projections may be conservative.

For instance, Moorhead's population is projected to fall from 33,138 in 2005 to 32,950 in 2010, before rising slowly to reach 37,082 in 2030.

Moorhead City Councilwoman Diane Wray Williams - who along with other Moorhead council members saw the report July 19 - questioned the assumption the city's population will fall later this decade.


"It seems like science fiction to me," she said.

MetroCOG said the projected decline for the next half-dozen years reflects more "empty-nesters" - families whose children grow up and leave home.

Konrad Olson, a Fargo commercial real estate agent and president of the Chamber of Commerce of Fargo-Moorhead, said he expects overall growth in the metro area will exceed MetroCOG's projections.

"All the stars seem to have come together for us," he said.

He said the metro area's diversified economy, which can withstand downturns in one sector, encourages people to move here.

In any case, if the projections are too conservative, it only increases the need for planning, MetroCOG officials said.

An estimated $750 million in federal funds will be needed to maintain and expand the metro area's road system over the next 25 years, according to MetroCOG.

The key will be to make the best use of the money, said Brian Gibson, a MetroCOG planner who worked on the report.


MetroCOG plans to assemble a group of local planners, bankers, builders and others who make important decisions about development in the metro area.

Their task will be to collect information and develop potential development scenarios that can be taken to metro residents.

For example, residents might be shown photographs featuring a certain type or aspect of development - such as streets of varying widths - and asked which they find most desirable.

By working together, metro-area officials and residents can develop plans that will minimize the negative aspects of growth and maintain the community's quality of life, Klein said.

Jim Danielson, a Moorhead City Council member, said improving the quality of life, not just maintaining it, should be the community's goal over the next 25 years.

The metro area of 2030 should be judged a success only if it "has ennobled us to be a better measure of our species," he said.

Olson said the benefits of growth outweigh its downside.

Like MetroCOG officials, he emphasized that the negatives of the metro area's growth over the next 25 years can be minimized by cooperation.


"We need to focus on what's best for everyone," he said. "Not what's best for Fargo or Moorhead - but everyone."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530

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