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Army Corps of Engineers awards $67M bid on I-29 flood diversion highway raising project

Work will start soon to raise a four-mile stretch of Interstate 29 south of Fargo that will elevate the freeway above the 500-year floodplain, keeping it high and dry when the metro flood diversion operates in extreme floods.

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Moorhead Mayor Shelley Carlson, Minn. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, N.D. Sen. John Hoeven, N.D. Gov. Doug Burgum, Cass County Commissioner Mary Scherling and West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis chat before the Metro Flood Diversion Authority meeting at Fargo City Hall on Friday, April 9, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — Federal, state and local officials joined together to announce the recipient of a $67 million contract to raise 4 miles of Interstate 29 out of the floodplain in a major milestone for the Fargo-Moorhead metro flood diversion project.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded the bid to Industrial Builders of West Fargo to raise a 4-mile stretch of I-29 by 4 to 5 feet to raise it above the 500-year floodplain to keep the freeway dry when the diversion operates during extreme floods.

“It’s two-for-one in terms of savings and efficiency," Sen. John Hoeven , R-N.D., said, explaining that dirt excavated for a control structure will be used to raise the highway, saving time and money.

The bid award announced Friday, April 9, for the highway project served as the occasion for officials to recall the long and difficult road to get to this point. The record 2009 Red River flood, which threatened to inundate Fargo-Moorhead, spurred the effort.

“This has been a labor of love and intensity like none other,” said Hoeven, who was flanked by Sen. Amy Klobuchar , D-Minn., North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and others.

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Another major milestone will come after bids are received April 23 for a contract estimated at $1 billion to $1.2 billion to build the 30-mile diversion channel for the $2.75 billion flood-control project.

Officials expect another six years of construction on the project. So far, work is half complete on the Red River inlet and Wild Rice control structure, both located near Horace. Work on the project’s third gated control structure, the Red River control structure, will start next year.

The three control structures will be built along a 22-mile embankment that will hold back water upstream during extreme floods, enabling a controlled release of water downstream.

The road elevation involves I-29 from south of Highway 50, the Hickson interchange, to north of Exit 54, the Davenport-Oxbow interchange.

Disruptions to motorists during the three-year I-29 elevation project will be minimized by construction of a four-lane bypass to the east of the interstate. Two-lane traffic on each side of the interstate will be possible most of the time, except for eight weeks when the project starts later this spring and 12 weeks as work concludes.

Friday’s announcement of the bid award for the highway project came one day after the North Dakota Legislature passed a bonding bill providing another $435.5 million in state funding for the diversion project.

“When this bill gets to my desk, I’m signing it,” Burgum said, referring to the $680 million bonding bill that includes funding for the diversion. Bonding bills in North Dakota, which has a penchant for paying cash for infrastructure, are rare but the package takes advantage of historically low interest rates, the governor said.

RELATED: North Dakota Legislature passes massive $680M bonding package

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That commitment brings to $870 million the state’s contribution to the project. The federal government has pledged $750 million, including $115 million appropriated for construction this year. Sales taxes in Fargo and Cass County will generate more than $1 billion.

A settlement agreement reached last October with downstream opponents, including Richland County in North Dakota and Wilkin County in Minnesota, was critical in removing legal and administrative resistance to the project, Klobuchar said.

“That really paved the way for this construction to go forward unimpeded,” she said. “We all know how important this project is.”

The diversion project will protect an important economic engine for the entire state of North Dakota, Burgum said. More than 20% of the state’s sales tax revenue comes from Cass County and 30% of the state’s hospital beds will be protected, he said.

Fargo also is an important source of jobs for many neighboring Minnesota communities, said Dave Ebinger, a Clay County commissioner. “If Fargo floods, Moorhead’s unemployed if the waters don’t get to us,” he said. “This is one community. We work together and we support each other.”

Officials said the diversion project is the result of extensive collaboration between two states and multiple jurisdictions, and is a pioneering example to the nation of blending public and private financing to create a mammoth public works project.

But getting to this point has required overcoming a series of obstacles. “We’ve never taken no for an answer,” said Joel Paulsen, executive director of the Metro Flood Diversion Authority. “Because we have to, we have no choice.”

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney sounded the same note, saying that just as evacuation wasn’t an option during the 2009 flood — residents stayed to fight the rising floodwaters — not securing the diversion is not an option.

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“We’ve arrived with a shovel-ready project, permits in hand,” he said.

Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
Phone: 701-367-5294
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