Moorhead officials seek federal funding for rail underpass, Minnesota

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The Moorhead City Council have appealed for federal funding for a new US$82 million rail underpass in downtown Moorhead, Minnesota. Although the officials have not yet set a final cost for the state-approved 11th Street railroad underpass, the City Engineer Bob Zimmerman said the current US$82 million cost estimate will change as the project proceeds through milestones, including property acquisitions, final design, an agreement with the BNSF Railway and construction bids. Even if the city doesn’t obtain federal funds, the engineer stated that the project will move forward. The federal assistance, though, could help reduce the local cost for taxpayers and also cover any other project expenses that might emerge.

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Construction isn’t scheduled to start until 2024, but Zimmerman said there has already been “behind the scenes” work on the project. The underpass will go underneath two railroad tracks, provide a much-needed traffic relief valve downtown and improve city safety with shorter response times from firefighters and police based on the north side of the tracks. “It is unlikely the project construction can start before 2024, but its possible work on relocating water, electrical and sewer lines could start sooner,” Zimmerman said.

The project’s current funding stands at US$62 million from the Minnesota bonding bill approved last fall and US$15.8 million from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which is leading the project and considers it as one of its top priorities. An estimated US$3.7 million is coming from BNSF, US$3 million from Moorhead and US$500,000 from Clay County. City Governmental Affairs Director Lisa Bode urged the council to hire the Primacy Strategy Group to assist with lobbying for federal aid for the project under a 12-month contract at a cost of US$54,000. On top of that, Tranter said there is a lot of flexibility in the American Rescue Plan Act with Ryan Kelly, the Primacy Strategy Group president adding that additional funding for the city could be in the US$5-6 million range and US$13 million for the county.