October 31, 2012

DOT begins talks on four-laning of U.S. 85

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

While the four-laning of the heavily traveled stretch of U.S. Highway 85 between Watford City and Williston could still be several years in the future, the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) has begun the process of upgrading the highway. And last Thursday, the NDDOT, along with representatives from the engineering firm of Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson (KLJ), was in Watford City to discuss with McKenzie County residents what the preliminary plans are.
“We are very early in the planning process,” stated Steve Gravill of KLJ. “So we don’t have a lot of details to share with you. But we are here to listen to what your concerns are.”
Based on the increased amount of traffic on the highway between Watford City and Williston, the NDDOT is proposing to construct a four-lane undivided highway from the west edge of Watford City to the junction of U.S. 85 and U.S. 2 east of Williston. And to accommodate the four lanes of traffic, the department is also looking at either building a new four-lane bridge across the Missouri River or building an additional two-lane bridge.
As part of the preliminary planning work, KLJ is in the process of doing an Environmental Assessment.
“Most of the environmental impacts on the project are going to be in the vicinity of the bridge,” stated Jennifer Turnbow of KLJ.
According to KLJ officials, when the existing bridge was built in 1978, the old bridge piers were left in place. In addition, planning any new bridge work will also have to take into account the existing water intake structure and water treatment facility.
As is currently being proposed, the existing highway, which consists of two 12-foot driving lanes with eight-foot shoulders, would be replaced with a four-lane undivided highway that would consist of two 12-foot driving lanes with shoulders as well as a center median.
High on the concerns from area residents was when will the project be built and whether or not the NDDOT is considering building a four-lane divided highway.
“Is it (the building of a four-lane road) going to happen?” asked Clayton Monsen of Arnegard. “And how is this project going to tie into the proposed bypass routes around Watford City and Alexander?”
“The quick answer as to whether or not the highway is going to be four-laned is easy,” stated Gravill. “The answer is yes. But there is no funding as of yet. But if it is funded, then we would like to see construction start in 201four if not earlier.”
As for tying the four-lane highway into the proposed bypasses, Gravill noted that the projects are independent of each other, but that they could happen at the same time.
“We are moving forward with the four-laning of U.S. 85,” stated Gravill. “The bypasses will just govern where the beginning and ending points of the project are.”
As for how the building of the highway and bridge would be phased, Gravill stated that the construction of the new bridge would start in 2014, and by that time the road work could be done.
Gravill also noted that in order to build the four lanes of traffic, the NDDOT would also be acquiring additional right of way along the proposed route.
But for many of the people in attendance at Thursday’s meeting, they wanted to know what the plans are to four-lane U.S. 85 from Watford City to Bowman.
“I would encourage the state to be looking at four-laning U.S. 85 to Bowman,” stated State Sen. Bill Bowman. “The traffic numbers are increasing on that stretch of road as well and the state needs to be studying the project right away.”
“Gov. Dalrymple wants U.S. 85 to be four-laned from Watford City to Belfield,” stated Bob Fode, NDDOT director of project development. “But there are going to be issues with the national park, as well as with the bridge that crosses the Little Missouri River.”
Thursday night’s meeting was just the first of several meetings that will be held in the future to take public comments on the proposed four-laning of U.S. 85.