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Moorhead residents angry about closing of I-94 ramp -- new ramps open road to frustration

If one of his family members dies at a train crossing in Moorhead, one father knows what he will do about it.

"If my daughter gets killed because she's waiting for a train and gets rear-ended? I'm suing the hell out of the city," said Greg Adams, who is upset about the closing of the Interstate 94 interchange at Southeast Main Avenue and its effect on traffic issues in the city.

"From a safety standpoint, it is a huge liability for the city," said Adams, referring to railroad tracks drivers must now contend with.

He has found his own way of coping with the changes.

To get to his job in Fargo, the resident of Moorhead's Village Green neighborhood ignores a new interchange at I-94 and 34th Street.

Instead, he takes Village Green Boulevard to 20th Street South and enters the interstate at 28th Avenue, near Minnesota State Community and Technical College.

It's still a journey, but Adams said it beats the drive to the new interchange and having to negotiate railroad tracks he didn't have to worry about in the past.

Frustrated neighbors

As the city of Moorhead works to convince state and federal officials to reopen two ramps connected to the old interchange, Adams and his neighbors are left with frustration and inconvenience.

The same goes for the owners of businesses and their employees in Moorhead's original industrial park.

"The ease to get my customers to my location has definitely changed," said Bruce Bekkerus, owner of A-1 Automotive at 2627 16th Ave. S.

He said a major problem is lack of signage.

"It's much more difficult to give customers directions when you have no identification of business 94, Highway 52 or east Main on the interstate," Bekkerus said.

And once drivers leave the interstate, many don't know which way to go, he said.

"There should be huge signs," Bekkerus said.

He said the situation is also a problem for employees.

"Seven of my nine employees now navigate railroad tracks, where before this they negotiated no railroad tracks.

"That," Bekkerus added, "is the norm for the roughly 700 employees in the industrial park."

He said workers in the area now find creative ways to get around, which can lead to traffic congestion.

Bekkerus said the most disturbing backups are at 20th Street South in the areas of 12th Avenue and 28th Avenue.

"People are trying to take alternative routes in substandard (railroad) crossings," he said.

'Time is money'

When the old interchange was closed, it caused immediate problems for the nearby Menards store and Moorhead's original industrial park, said Chuck Chadwick, executive director of the Moorhead Business Association.

"The safety issue is of primary concern," he said, adding that semi drivers who haul petrochemicals are among those who started seeking alternate routes when the old interchange closed.

"Time is money, and they (truck drivers) are going to seek other access roads to get to the interstate, and that includes going through a residential area," he said. He estimated 126 petrochemical semis travel to and from the industrial park on a regular basis.

Roger Olson, owner of Sig Olson & Sons Plastering, said his business in the industrial park has been inconvenienced by the same issues outlined by Bekkerus and Chadwick.

Olson anticipates the situation will worsen as his company's busiest time of year, spring and summer, approaches.

After the old interchange closed, Olson said he and many others in the industrial park area started using a gravel frontage road to reach an interstate ramp at 20th Street South.

The gravel road, actually 28th Avenue South, crosses railroad tracks that are not controlled by crossing arms. Olson said the intersection where the gravel road meets 20th Street can become a busy one, especially around 4 p.m. when students are leaving the nearby technical college.

Making it safe

City officials say the gravel road is scheduled to be paved. It will also get a set of railroad crossing arms in 2012.

And the city is in the process of getting more signs put up as part of the interchange changes.

Overall, Moorhead City Engineer Bob Zimmerman said, the new interchange and related features were built to be safe, with railroad crossing arms and stoplights put in place to make sure things stay that way.

He said the point of the new interchange was to give interstate traffic a way to reach one of Moorhead's growth areas without having to cross railroad tracks.

That's been achieved for the area north of the interstate and east of 34th Street, he said.

If Moorhead grows as anticipated, Zimmerman said, the number of car-train exposures in the area will be several thousand fewer per day because of the new interchange.

He said car-train exposures would be reduced further if the old ramps are retained. He stressed Moorhead is working on several fronts to convince federal highway officials that the ramps should stay open.

In the meantime, drivers should know the interchange project was designed to be a safe one, he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

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