Council chooses patience over 24-hour push

city council

Progress continues on the SE Main/20-21st Street triple railroad underpass. Completion is now expected in late May or early June 2022. (Photo/Russ Hanson)

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Faced with the choice of time or money, the Moorhead City Council decided Monday to forego spurring Ames Construction into round-the-clock efforts to complete the SE Main/20-21st Street underpass project by Thanksgiving.

Instead, the huge, slow-moving construction project – now in its fourth construction season – will continue with crews working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. five days a week and some Saturdays. That means completion of the $52 million complex of three railroad bridges and the roadways underneath won’t come until the beginning of Summer 2022.

The council had asked the city engineering department to work with Ames on options for a speedier wrap-up. Assistant engineer Tom Trowbridge brought back Ames’ proposal, along with a generally positive poll of neighboring residents and the cost estimate for increasing to three shifts of workers.

The city asked 624 homeowners, renters and businesses within half a mile of the project whether they would prefer extending construction hours this summer for an earlier completion date or maintaining the current schedule. Trowbridge reported that about one-third responded. Of them, 173 favored accelerated hours for a quicker finish, while 50 reacted negatively to the prospect of 24-hour construction work. Several said their opinions would be affected by the cost of the adjustments.

The same turned out to be true of the council members themselves. Presented with Ames’ estimate of an added $2.2 million in costs, a majority balked. “Spending $2.2 million to save six months or so seems excessive,” member Deb White commented. “That’s something like $11,000 for every day.” After Trowbridge explained the fees would come from the city’s state transportation aid funds – already earmarked for other projects, including the Center Avenue/11th Street underpass – she concluded, “It’s not worth the cost.”

Members Heather Nesemeier, Shelly Dahlquist and Laura Caroon were on the same page. Caroon pointed out that the constant noise from the site has been very draining. “I’d hate to have residents go through this all summer, then find it was just too hard on the community.”

Trowbridge noted that, even with the proposed acceleration, the outcome would still be uncertain. Heavy rains, pandemic-related problems finding workers and materials, and the possibility of an early onset of winter could affect the predicted early opening on Nov. 24.

In the end, the council voted unanimously to maintain the current pace at the current price.  

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