May 5—A plan to build a roundabout in East Grand Forks has been thrown for a loop.
Last month, East Grand Forks City Council members voted 4-3 to keep a planned $1.6 million traffic circle at Bygland Road and Rhinehart Drive at the top of their list for $860,000 worth of federal "subtarget" infrastructure funding in 2022. But, last week, Mayor Steve Gander quietly vetoed their decision and, at a meeting on Tuesday evening, council members didn't muster enough votes to override that veto, which has put the roundabout's future into doubt, at least in the short term.
"I do believe that we need to improve our vehicular access onto Bygland Road, particularly in the morning," Gander said Tuesday, referring to the traffic that sometimes snarls that road as people commute to and from nearby schools and workplaces. "My concern is there may be a better way to do it."
Voting to override the veto were council members Tim Johnson, Marc DeMers, Brian Larson and Clarence Vetter. Voting to keep the veto in place were Dale Helms and Tim Riopelle, plus City Council President Mark Olstad. At first blush, the 4-3 vote to override looks like a success, but city code requires at least three-quarters of the council agree to override a veto, not a simple majority. That means at least six of seven council members needed to vote against Gander's veto.
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Change the plan? Change the year?
East Grand Forks' long-range transit plan, a long-winded document filed with the Metropolitan Planning Organization that's a necessary part of the city's application for the federal money, still has the Bygland roundabout at the top of the city's list for 2022 federal money. The veto and the failed override vote didn't change that, but there's a difference between having a plan and executing that plan. Last month's vote instructed city staff to begin pursuing the roundabout plan in earnest, and Gander's veto nullified those instructions, prompting council members to revisit their decision and, potentially, switch to a different project, such as a $2.2 million street reconstruction plan in an industrial park along 10th Street Northeast.
Both plans would rely on the same $860,000 from the feds to pay for the construction. City leaders have been debating which project should be at the front of the line for that money and which would need to wait until the city is appropriated another batch of it in 2026 or beyond. The subtarget funding rotates each year between East Grand Forks, Crookston, Thief River Falls and Bemidji, which means each city can use it once every four years to subsidize a road project.
In East Grand Forks City Administrator David Murphy's estimation, the failed override of Gander's veto means the plan to build a roundabout at Bygland and Rhinehart has been "defeated" for the time being. That, he indicated, leaves city leaders with a choice: rush to put a different infrastructure plan, such as the 10th Street project, in the roundabout's place as state and federal deadlines loom relatively large, or see if nearby cities would be willing to swap places in the federal funding rotation, which would give East Grand Forks leaders time to reconsider their options.
"I would think before we get too far ahead of ourselves letting our subtarget dollars slip by a year, we come back to a work session one more time and see if we can reach consensus within a time frame where we can still modify the plan and get this into the program for that year," Gander said shortly before Tuesday's vote. "I feel like there's a good chance for doing that, and I think that's what our community would expect of us."