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Dayton mediates meeting on Paul Bunyan Trail Bridge sign

BEMIDJI – There’s renewed hope for a “Welcome to Bemidji” sign on the Paul Bunyan Trail Bridge after Gov. Mark Dayton met with city and state officials Wednesday afternoon to help resolve the issue.

Sitting in on the meeting were city councilors Greg Negard and Kevin Waldhausen, Mayor Dave Larson, city manager John Chattin, Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, and officials from the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural Resources.

The city has hoped for a more attractive sign on the new bridge that signifies the gateway into the city. But MnDOT has concerns about public safety, considering the sign would be adjacent to stop lights on one of the busiest intersections in town.

“We typically don’t allow community entrance signs on bridges over the roadway,” said MnDOT assistant district engineer Craig Collison. “It really has to do with driver awareness.”  

Collison said the next step is for the city to come up with a design for a new sign.

“We’ll be working with them on that,” Collison said.

Larson said that there’s a lack of contrast between the letters and the background on the current sign, making it hard to read.

“It actually blends in too much with the background,” he said.

Chattin said with future development on the south shore of Lake Bemidji, a welcoming sign would add a lot to the area. The bridge, which opened in September and was built by the DNR, spans over U.S. Highway 197.

The meeting came after Dayton campaigned for local Democratic Farmer Labor legislative candidates and encouraged students to vote at Bemidji State University.  

 Dayton’s Bemidji trip become a subject of Republican Twitter comments complaining about the state paying for what some saw as a mostly political trip to support DFL legislative candidates.

The state airplane used in the trip came with a $3,312 charge, Dayton Press Secretary Katharine Tinucci said, which will be split equally between the state and Dayton’s own campaign committee.

When asked if Dayton would have flown to Bemidji just to discuss a sign on the bridge, Tinucci said that he flew to Thief River Falls for a ceremonial ground-breaking for a stop light that he had promised during his campaign two years ago.  

Forum Communications reporter Don Davis contributed to this report

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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