When officials with the Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Council of Governments were putting together their latest transportation planning document covering the next 25 years, bike and pedestrian trails and bridges were at the forefront of their minds.
Michael Maddox, senior transportation planner for Metro Cog, explained the reasons for the emphasis on bike trails and walking paths during a recent brown bag gathering where area elected officials received an update on the 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan.
"They're the most important things people key in on," Maddox said, referring to public feedback Metro Cog sought out as part of the planning process.
In providing area officials with a summary of the transportation plan, Maddox and Cindy Gray, Metro Cog's executive director, outlined a number of demographic factoids about the metro area, including population and employment trends.
Gray said that over the next 25 to 30 years, the number of households in the metro area is forecast to increase by 40 percent, with the number of jobs in the area anticipated to grow by about 56,000.
"It's important that we are preparing for that," Gray said, adding that while growth will no doubt complicate getting around, the area has a number of things going for it in when it comes to transportation, including a relatively short average commute time for metro workers of about 17 minutes.
"Which really is really awesome for a metropolitan area," Gray said.
A survey the agency conducted as part of its planning process attempted to give a picture of where people in the metro area live and worked. About 287 people responded to the poll.
According to the results of the survey, the largest percentage of respondents, or about 17 percent, said they worked in central Fargo, while 14 percent of respondents said they lived in central Fargo.
Four percent of respondents said they lived in downtown Fargo, while 15 percent of respondents said they worked in downtown Fargo.
In reference to commuting data, Gray said numbers show that about 82% of the metro area's workers drive by themselves to work, while about 8% utilize car pools and approximately 4% work from their home.
Gray and Maddox said the commuting picture in the metro area is very fluid, with people living in various places and commuting to work in the metro area from a variety of directions, though Gray added that the largest number of people commuting into the metro for work are coming from the east.
Maddox and Gray said that as they gathered public input to include in the transportation plan many people indicated a strong desire for the community to promote things like bike and foot paths as a way of improving the community's livability factor.
As a result, Maddox said, plans are being developed on a number of fronts to do just that.
He said in one case a bike bridge could be developed over the Red River between approximately 40th Avenue South on the Fargo side and approximately the Bluestem Amphitheater near 50th Avenue South in Moorhead.
Metro Cog updates its metro transportation plan every five years, and Maddox said planning success stories from the previous update include the now completed interchange at Eighth Street South and Interstate 94 in Moorhead, which he said has had a significant affect on reducing traffic issues in that neighborhood.
He said officials are hopeful West Fargo will see similar benefits from a soon-to-be-completed interchange at Sheyenne Street and I-94.
Maddox said thanks to the recent highway work and ongoing projects, the metro area should have ample capacity to support anticipated growth for years to come and he said planners to some degree are shifting focus from mobility issues to livability issues.
Still, traffic forecasts Maddox and Gray presented to area leaders sounded daunting.
According to Metro Cog figures, by 2045 daily traffic loads in the area may include:
- 100,000 vehicles crossing the I-94 bridge
- 20,000 vehicles crossing Fargo's 52nd Avenue South bridge over the Red River
- 27,000 vehicles using Eighth Street South in Moorhead at Interstate 94
- 35,000 vehicles using 34th Street South in Moorhead at Interstate 94
Maddox said future projects being considered include interstate interchanges at 64th Avenue South and 76th Avenue South in Fargo.
An interchange at Interstate 29 and 64th Avenue South is in the short-term element of the Metropolitan Transportation Plan, though the project would need to be approved by state and federal officials before design and construction could begin. Currently, the city of Fargo is in the process of designing a 64th Avenue overpass that will be constructed next year.
An interchange at 76th Avenue South at I-29 is in the “Vision Plan,” portion of the plan.