First Avenue bridge expected to open this weekend

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

In the wake of the Red River’s second crest Monday, city engineer Bob Zimmerman told the Moorhead City Council Monday that the First Avenue bridge, along with the avenue from the river to Seventh Street North, are expected to be open by the weekend.
The flooded low section of the avenue north of the Center Mall – where it cuts beneath a set of railroad tracks – has made the route inaccessible for several weeks. Fargo opened its end of the bridge last week after its new flood wall was disassembled. But the Moorhead closure has meant the busy commuter route remained blocked.
Zimmerman said the city had been advised to avoid pumping the blocked section on both sides of an earthen levee until the river level reached 27 feet, a measure intended to avoid damaging the structure. That would mean, he said, that work wouldn’t begin until next week.
However, a reassessment by the city’s geotechnical consultant has eased that directive. He said pumping would commence before midweek, potentially opening the avenue – and the bridge – by this weekend. The Third Street underpass will remain closed until the river drops to 21 feet several weeks in the future.
Council member Joel Paulsen asked about steps that could be taken to prevent long closures in the future. The engineer pointed out that a proposal to raise the levee to the highest point possible – 37 feet, compared with the 44-foot levee protecting the rest of the city – is the fourth priority among the city’s list of five mitigation projects, totalling almost $52 million. All await action by the legislature.
Clean-up of flooded Woodlawn and Gooseberry parks and the river trail system won’t begin until mid-May, he predicted, with some effects lingering through the summer.
Reflecting on the Weather Service’s probabilistic forecasts, which inspired many of the 99 action steps city staff took to fight the flood, Zimmerman noted that their most extreme 5% projections have been met or exceeded in three of the past top-ten floods (2001, 2006 and 2009). April’s 35-foot crest, though ranked as the 10th highest crest in local history, fell within the modest 90% probabilistic range.

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