AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
Progress often comes in a series of small steps. And for residents of western North Dakota who rely on being able to travel safely and efficiently on U.S. Highway 85, last week’s opening of the new Long X Bridge was a very big day. And in the process, the opening of this four-lane bridge will be the first step in the long process of seeing this critical roadway become four-laned from Watford City to the junction with Interstate 94 at Belfield.
It was definitely time for the old Long X Bridge to make its way into history. The bridge, which opened to use in 1959, was a gorgeous bridge in its time. But as traffic loads increased and the size of trucks moving up and down the highway increased over the ensuing years, it became very painfully evident that the bridge itself was a safety hazard. The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) has no idea how many times the bridge was struck by trucks carrying oversize loads, which resulted in traffic being detoured more than 75 miles to other roadways.
Fortunately, those days are now history. Today, motorists can now travel across the new bridge without fear of oncoming truck traffic.
Unfortunately, the new four-lane bridge is going to be somewhat of an oddity as U.S. Highway 85 still remains just a two-lane road.
So when will work on the four-laning of U.S. Highway 85 begin? The good news is that the NDDOT is already working on the design and preparation work to four-lane the highway from Watford City to the bridge.
The bad news is that until the state receives federal funding the $104 million to complete that 15-mile segment is on hold.
As planned, the entire four-laning of U.S. Highway 85 is anticipated to be completed in four stages. The first step was building the bridge, which will be followed by the four-laning of the roadway from Watford City to the bridge, followed by the segment from the bridge to the Highway 200 junction. The final leg would be from that junction to I-94.
Hopefully, between the North Dakota Legislature and funding from the U.S. Congress, funding to continue work on this much-needed highway will be forthcoming in the next two years.
Until then, people traveling on U.S. Highway 85 will be able to enjoy crossing a beautiful four-lane bridge that is serviced by a two-lane highway.