Proposed $6-11 million pedestrian bridge riles up Fargo taxpayers

You know it’s time to consider going back to the drawing board when a project draws comparisons to the most infamous poster child for wasteful government spending — the Alaskan bridge to nowhere. That’s the case with a proposed pedestrian bridge being touted by Fargo city commissioners that would connect city hall with the river front.

But the expected price tag of between $6 million and $11 million has some taxpayers so worked up they’re comparing the walkway to the “bridge to nowhere.” Forum News got access to the public comments submitted online on the six different designs under consideration, responses that were largely negative.

“I feel this pedestrian bridge to nowhere is unnecessary and a wasteful expenditure of taxpayer money,” one person said in response.

“If this project is approved I believe it is tone deaf, not fiscally responsible, and will reflect negatively on the City Commission,” another wrote. They said this is not the time for the project because of a “nationwide recession.”

Others echoed that sentiment, with one person saying, “There may be a time in the future to consider it, but certainly this is not the time.”

“I don’t know if I’ve received a single email or outreach in support (of the project),” Commissioner John Strand said.

The city has already spent some $250,000 on the design stage that will ultimately cost taxpayers a total of $480,000. Despite the negative feedback and high price tag, some city commissioners stand by a plan they believe will revitalize the area. They say it’s a matter of looking at the big picture.

Lost in this debate, Commissioner Arlette Preston said, is the city’s vision for the Fargo Civic Plaza that the bridge would connect to.

Instead of a “bridge to nowhere,” Preston said, the bridge would allow increased access and scenic viewing of the riverfront while also connecting to Civic Plaza and downtown Fargo.

In this vision, city hall plaza would be a “gathering spot,” Preston said, with numerous possible amenities including a small performance space, water feature, farmers market and place for addressing large crowds.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation provided a $2.4 million grant to get the pedestrian pathway going, along with $600,000 from the city. But elected officials acknowledge there’s still a long way to go to in obtaining the rest of the funding, which could amount to an additional $8 million if the most expensive design was chosen.

…most of the comments Preston received regarding the project have been negative, she said. Addressing the fiscal concerns, she said she hopes to explore a long-term financial plan to “figure out if and how some of these things would get funded.”

Commissioner Denise Kolpack said she will need to see additional details, including costs and timing, before she decides if she will support the bridge project.

She received two comments from the public, both not in favor of the bridge’s price tag, she said.

No doubt some critics of the sprawling walkway recall another pedestrian bridge that was proposed (but never built) in 2014 at a fraction of the cost of the current project — just $1.4 to $1.7 million.