July 17, 2013

City residents want overpass on bypass

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

While engineers from KLJ, the engineering doing the design work on the new highway bypasses of Watford City, claim that their new design will more than adequately handle all foreseeable traffic, many city residents are skeptical that the proposed intersection that would connect U.S. Highway 85 and N.D. 23 on the south side of Watford City will be workable.
“We are very concerned with the new intersection south of Watford City,” stated Doug Nordby, McKenzie County commissioner at a public meeting on Tuesday, July 9. “Stop signs and traffic lights won’t work. Over 20,000 vehicles a day are passing through Alexander and the vast majority of those vehicles go south of Watford City on U.S. Highway 85.”
The county commissioners’ main concern, according to Nordby, is that given the choice of taking the longer route of the bypass, the majority of oilfield service vehicles will still choose to come through Watford City.
“Our county and city don’t need stop lights,” stated Nordby. “We need overpasses to keep traffic moving safely and smoothly.”
But according to Travis Wieber of KLJ, the new design will be just as effective as an overpass at moving the traffic quickly. And it will come at a substantial cost savings.
However, Wieber did acknowledge that as part of the overall project, the North Dakota Dept. of Transportation would be acquiring additional rights-of-way at the junction in the event that an overpass would be required in the future.
Kay O’Connor also expressed her support for an overpass, noting that there are currently long lines of traffic coming into Watford City from both the south and the east.
“Right now we have lines of traffic starting near Johnson Corners and extending all the way to Watford City,” stated O’Connor.
But according to Wieber, those long lines of traffic will lessen substantially once the bypasses are constructed.
“Once the bypass is in place, and with the high speed traffic on the new route, much of the traffic congestion in Watford City will be eliminated,” stated Wieber.
According to Wieber, the state’s 2012 traffic count indicates that 12,000 vehicles, of which 5,000 are trucks, pass through Watford City each day.
But according to Brooks Kummer, those traffic numbers are too low because a majority of the oilfield traffic is taking county roads instead of battling the highway traffic around Watford City.
“I’ve seen traffic backed up five miles around Watford City,” stated Kummer. “We have rush hour traffic here just like in major cities.”
And for Pat Golberg, who lives south of Watford City on U.S. Highway 85 and often waits 15 minutes just to leave his driveway because of traffic, the decision to install a overpass should be a no-brainer.
“The bypass will help,” stated Golberg. “But I think that the light at the junction of 23 and 85 will cause a problem. Put the overpass in now. It will never be cheaper to do than it is right now.”
While the overpass issue seemed to be the overriding issue at Tuesday’s public meeting, there were also several people who expressed their concern over the limited access that is being proposed along the bypass routes.
“I have land that is being planned for development on the Highway 23 Bypass,” stated Steve Stenehjem. “How am I going to get access?”
According to Wieber, access on the bypasses would be limited to one access per side per mile.
He further stated that construction on the Highway 23 bypass project is scheduled to begin in 2014.