Sen. Klobuchar: ‘Nine times was the charm’

Moorhead Mayor Shelly Carlson introduces Sen. Amy Klobuchar, while Minnesota Department of Transportation engineer Justin Knopf and Moorhead city engineer Bob Zimmerman exchange glances. (Photo/Nancy Hanson.)

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar joined local officials in Moorhead Tuesday to officially announce a federal grant of $26.3 million for the double underpass project on 11th Street.

With approval of the appropriation — “the check is in the mail,” she said — the long-awaited route beneath the two BNSF railroad lines that bisect Moorhead is within sight. Preliminary construction work will begin late this year, according to Minnesota Department of Transportation assistant engineer Justin Knopf, with completion expected in 2024.

Thwarting the train delays that bedevil Moorhead has been a goal of the city since at least 1977, city engineer Bob Zimmerman told the reporters and officials assembled at the Hjemkomst Center. The Area Central Railroad Separation Study issued at that time cited trains loaded with lignite coal as an aggravating impediment to traffic within the city.

Klobuchar applauded the city’s persistence in pursuing a solution to the trains-vs.-traffic dilemma that has always complicated access across town. Eight times the city had pursued funding for the project, and eight times it had failed. “When Sen. (Tina) Smith and I resubmitted it for the ninth time last year, someone in the Transportation Department told me, ‘There must be something wrong with it,’” she joked. “I told her, ‘Look it over. If you do find something wrong, please tell us and put us out of our misery.’”

It was reviewed once again … and found to harbor no problems. Carlson told the group that Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeig confided that Moorhead’s plan was one of only 12 funded this year through a Rural Surface Transportation Grant.

In addition to the federal funding, the project will be funded by $62 million from MnDOT, $3.7 million from BNSF and about $3.5 million from Clay County and the city of Moorhead.

“I want to thank Mayor Carlson and the Moorhead city staff for their diligence in pushing this project,” the senator added. She noted that the project’s cost has increased 16% in the 10 years since the request was first submitted. “Sometimes cities think short term. They bring something up, but that’s the last we hear of it. I love how Moorhead’s leaders persist. They’ve been thinking the same on this one since the 1970s.”

The mayor noted that the double underpass will do more than save drivers’ time and open up access to the downtown. More important, she said, will be its effect on emergency access by police, fire and ambulance crews, expected to save some 200 lives in the next 10 years. Seventy trains now pass through the city every day, blocking downtown traffic for five hours. By 2025, transportation experts predict 90 trains will cross the city daily; without the underpass, they would block vehicles for seven hours.

Klobuchar cited two other local projects receiving federal grant funding — $1 million for an entrepreneurship center to be housed in Moorhead’s new community center/library complex downtown, and $2.25 million for MSUM’s Yellow Ribbon program, which supports veterans in earning degrees in critical industries facing workforce shortages. She also mentioned funding to extend internet access in rural areas of the state.

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