AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
The good news for people traveling up and down U.S. Highway 85 south of Watford City is that the Long X Bridge is soon going to be replaced as part of a proposed four-laning project of the highway from south of Watford City to the I-94 junction at Belfield.
While the North Dakota Department of Transportation has indicated that there is no funding for the four-laning work and that they will be submitting their Final Draft Environmental Statement for the new roadway to the Federal Highway Administration this fall, the replacement of the Long X Bridge will begin in 2019.
Seeing the Long X Bridge finally being replaced is the key step to improving traffic flow on one of the most heavily used highways in North Dakota. Built in 1959, the bridge was adequate for traffic flows at that time. But as traffic volumes have increased and the size of vehicles moving up and down U.S. Highway 85 have increased, it has become abundantly clear that the existing Long X Bridge structure is no longer adequate.
Because of its narrow bridge decking, as well as its low clearance, the Long X Bridge has been hit seven times in recent years and has had to be closed for repairs. And each and every time that the bridge has been hit and closed, it has caused major traffic issues and resulted in major detours on one of the busiest roads serving western North Dakota. Those closures have not only impacted the lives of people who are trying to commute to work, but have caused a huge economic impact to cities like Watford City and Williston, as well as to oil field and other companies who rely on being able to transport their goods and services up and down U.S. Highway 85.
Think about it. McKenzie County is virtually an island that is only accessible by crossing the Missouri River either south of Williston or on the east across the Four Bears Bridge near New Town, crossing the Yellowstone River near East Fairview, or crossing the Little Missouri River via the Long X Bridge.
All of these other bridges are of recent construction and are wide with no clearance issues, which they need to be there.
The long holdout was the Long X Bridge.
But with the NDDOT now proposing to four-lane U.S. Highway 85, it is the perfect time to upgrade this bridge to today’s traffic standards and to be able to support the volume and type of traffic that is now using the highway.
Once the new bridge is replaced, it may seem strange to cross a four-lane bridge when U.S. Highway 85 is still a two-lane road. But, at least the bridge will be ready when that highway is finally converted to four lanes.