Commissioners approve building bridge on CSAH 8

by April Scheinoha

    The Pennington County Board has approved building a bridge and roadway on Pennington County State Aid Highway 8. Commissioners approved that site at their meeting Tuesday, Feb. 13.
    Commissioner Darryl Tveitbakk was absent from the meeting, but he listened to the discussion via phone. He was unable to vote since he wasn’t present at the meeting.
    Commissioners approved building the bridge and roadway where their consultants, WSB & Associates and Houston Engineering, had recommended. Those firms recommended building the new bridge and roadway over the Red Lake River from CSAH 8 (east of Challenger Elementary School) to Mark Boulevard (north of Sanford Health). Six days before the County Board meeting, they unveiled their recommendation to the public.
    That alternative was among three options studied by the firms. The other options were:
    • Building a bridge and roadway over the Red Lake River on CSAH 7, or
    • Doing nothing
    The bridge and roadway project is estimated to cost $5.77 million, which includes the potential construction of roundabouts.  The project isn’t expected to impact local taxes. County Engineer Mike Flaagan said he expected the county would use two years worth of its state aid for county highways. It receives about $2 million annually. The county has already received  a total of $2 million in grants through the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The county may also receive additional funding through the Local Road Improvement Program.
    The consultants are now expected to study how the new roadway will align with the existing roadways. “There will probably be two different alignments,” said Flaagan. “The rest of it has pretty much been set.”
    MnDOT would also need to study the intersection of CSAH 8 and Pennington Avenue as well as the intersection of Highway 32 and Mark Boulevard. Those studies would address whether a four-way stop, a traffic control signal system or a roundabout is needed at either intersection.
    In the past, some residents have raised concerns about safety outside of CES once the bridge is built. Flaagan said he, a MnDOT representative, the Thief River Falls Police Department and Thief River Falls Superintendent Brad Bergstrom met a little more than a year ago to discuss how a new road and bridge would impact traffic there. He said they talked about changing the crosswalks. However, Flaagan said they didn’t make any changes since they didn’t know how commissioners wished to proceed in terms of the bridge.
    In making the motion for the CSAH 8 site, Commissioner Don Jensen said he was considering Digi-Key employees, Arctic Cat employees and people who live in the area of the future bridge. Specifically, Jensen referred to the amount of time it may take someone to reach the hospital if they live along the eastern section of CSAH 7. That section is typically referred to as the Smiley Bridge road.
    Commissioner Neil Peterson echoed Jensen’s concerns. He said he had spoken with someone who has a relative attending CES. That individual was concerned about the timing of emergency care if the child was attending school when an emergency arose.
    Commissioners also considered other matters. “Those people that live there need to know what is going to happen,” Jensen said.
    Commissioners have also heard concerns from downtown property owners. Commissioner Cody Hempel recently attended a meeting of the Thief River Falls Chamber of Commerce Board. Half of those speaking with Hempel were concerned that the bridge would help people bypass downtown Thief River Falls. The other half were in favor of the bridge, saying it would help the traffic situation in downtown Thief River Falls. Hempel suggested hosting a listening session with the Chamber and Thief River Falls Downtown Development Association to get their feedback on a more formal basis.