July 3, 2012

Bypass plans for Watford draw flak

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

The North Dakota Dept. of Transportation’s (NDDOT) preliminary plans for truck bypasses around Watford City ran into strong opposition from landowners and city officials during a public meeting on Thursday, June 28.
The NDDOT began work on developing plans to help reduce the traffic congestion, especially truck traffic, in the vicinity of the city earlier this spring following a formal request by the Watford City City Council. According to NDDOT traffic count surveys, approximately 13,000 vehicles, of which between 30 and 40 percent are trucks, pass through Watford City daily on U.S. Highway 85.
“We need to be able to connect U.S. Highway 85 on the south and west sides of Watford City,” stated Travis Wieber of the engineering firm of Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson. “We also want to be able to wrap N.D. Highway 23 on the east side of Watford City to the south and hook it up with U.S. 85.”
As presented, possible bypass/reliever routes on the south side of Watford City could be located at either McKenzie County Road 30, at 24th Street NW, or at another location approximately ½ mile to the north of 24th Street NW. Those routes would then take traffic to the west of Watford City and connect to U.S. Highway 85 at 128th Ave. NW, at 129th Ave. NW or at a location between those two avenues. For N.D. Highway 23 traffic, the proposed plans would divert traffic to the south at either the junction of N.D. Highway 1806 or at a location approximately one mile to the east of Highway 1806 and then rejoin U.S. Highway 85 south of Watford City.
According to Wieber, the goal of the bypass/truck reliever routes would be to get the trucks out of Watford City and to tie the existing highways into a smooth network.
But for city officials and impacted landowners, the preliminary plans were a case of design overkill and weren’t workable.
“Our intent was for a truck reliever route,” stated Curt Moen, Watford City planner. “We wanted to eliminate the congestion and keep trucks out of Watford City. We were only looking for an improved gravel road that the trucks could take.”
But instead of a truck reliever route, according to Moen, the plan has now evolved into a highway bypass of Watford City. And that is something that neither Moen nor Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford are in favor of.
“A full bypass would do nothing for the city,” stated Moen. “If it (the planning process) proceeds in this manner, the city may withdraw its support of the project. This is going to a full bypass of Watford City, which was never our intent.”
According to Moen, a full bypass would hurt the city’s future growth.
“If this is a bypass of the city, it (the planning proposal) needs to be squashed right now!” stated Moen.
Sanford was equally disturbed by the information that was presented at the public meeting.
“Our (the city) request was for a reliever route,” stated Sanford. “This is turning into a reroute of 85 and that is not what the city was looking for. What they (the NDDOT) started out with was a gravel road and now they are talking about a major highway.”
While city officials had serious concerns about the entire roads being planned, area landowners also expressed their concerns about the impact the roads would have on their property and livelihood.
“These proposed routes would be very detrimental to us,” stated Jarvis Sorenson, who farms and ranches east of Watford City. “It is going to cut our farm in half, which would make parts of our operation isolated and inaccessible.”
Sorenson’s concerns of the impact on farming and ranching operations were shared by a majority of the more than 75 people that attended the public meeting.
“Every single road that you have proposed on the south side of Watford City, with the exception of County Road 30, would affect our property,” stated Konrad Norstog. “The 24th Street SW route would separate our headquarters from the rest of our property. We’d fight that option tooth and nail.”
In addition, according to Norstog, the other routes south of Watford, with the exception of County Road 30, would have problems with hills, wooded areas, several creek crossings, as well as quick sand around Cherry Creek.
For Kevin and Tina Foreman, who live south of Watford City, the three proposed routes would all impact someone living there.
“What are you trying to do here?” questioned Kevin Foreman. “The most northern route works best for me, but I don’t want to see the highway going through someone else’s house as it would on the other routes. There’s got to be a better answer.”
For Tina Foreman, the concern was for safety of the people living next to the proposed routes.
“If placard vehicles can’t be in Watford City for safety reasons, why should they be allowed to go by our homes and be close to our livestock?” asked Tina. “Aren’t there laws to keep hazardous materials from us, our water sources and cattle?”
According to Wieber, part of the rationale used in selecting the routes was that both U.S. Highway 85 and N.D. 23 are classified as being Interregional System roads, and as such, the goal was to provide routes that would include a high degree of mobility, safety, and a design speed of between 60 and 65 miles per hour.
While the NDDOT has not allocated any funding toward the project, according to Wieber, final design work will begin in the Spring of 2013 with the project ready for construction in 2014.
During Thursday night’s meeting,  Wieber also noted that the NDDOT is in the process of planning to upgrade U.S. Highway 85 to five lanes from five miles south of Watford City to Williston.