January 25, 2012

DOT moves forward with Alexander bypass plans

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

The North Dakota Department of Transportation’s (NDDOT) State Traffic Improvement Program (STIP) is out for 2012-2015 and it contains some exciting things for McKenzie County.
According to Terry Wilhelm, Public Information specialist for the Department of Transportation, the STIP is continuously subject to change. However, all projects listed in it are slated for consideration and essentially on the DOT’s to-do list, barring any hiccups.
That being said, two projects in particular that peek the interests of McKenzie County residents are a truck reliever route around Alexander and the extension of the bike path in Watford City from N.D. Highway 23 east to the golf course.
Jane Berger, programming engineer for the NDDOT, states that Alexander is in the planning stages for a reliever route.
And what exactly does that mean for those affected? Unfortunately, not a lot.
The process of creating a truck reliever route from start to finish is exhaustive. It involves months to years of planning, conducting studies and public meetings. And, though an Alexander Bypass is on the 2012-2015 STIP, there is no telling how close the project is to completion.
“We really can’t estimate a time frame at this time,” Berger states. “We still have to develop and conduct the environmental studies as well as look at the possible impacts and alternatives that may be available.”
What Berger can state with certainty is that Alexander is tentatively looking at a public input meeting in or around March and that meeting will determine the next steps for Alexander and the NDDOT.
All of this actually is good news for Alexander residents and U.S. Highway 85 commuters, though it may seem like a distant hope. It shows commitment on the NDDOT’s part to see this project take place and that things are moving in a forward direction, though seemingly slow, toward completing this project.
Another interesting project listed on the 2012-2015 STIP has to do with the expansion of Watford City’s bike path and walkway.
Watford City submitted an application for Transportation Enhancement in December of 2009, to expand the city’s current bike path/walkway from where it ends on N.D. Highway 23 east to the golf course.
However, some things have changed for Watford City since the application’s original submission.
According to Laura Anderson, Watford City city auditor, the city had begun to think that the bike path/walkway would better serve the community if it was expanded west to the Pioneer Museum.
However, recent oil activity and increased traffic has caused the city to put the expansion on hold altogether.
“Given all the projects the city needs to complete for the 2012 fiscal year, we decided to push the project back until we know more,” Anderson states. “It is not off the table, the city just wants to wait until some things settle down and we have a better idea where it will best suit the community.”
Thankfully, the NDDOT has been flexible with Watford City and allowed the project to be put on hold.
“We have a good relationship with Watford City,” states Ben Kubischta, Transportation Enhancement program manager. “We are working with the city to put a plan in place that is best for them.”
According to Anderson, this is not a use it or lose it program. Therefore, the bike path/walkway expansion project will be considered in the future by both the city and the NDDOT.
The 2012-2015 STIP also has some rural road improvements slated for consideration in the Squaw Gap area and N.D. Highway 23 east to the reservation boundary.
These road improvements include chip, seal and coating and an intersection improvement on N.D. Highway 23 north of Keene and N.D. Highway 16 and McKenzie County Road 38.
According to Wilhelm, two projects that McKenzie County residents would love to see in consideration for the 2012-2015 STIP, the turning of U.S. Highway 85 between Watford City and Williston into a four-lane divided highway and the creation of a truck reliever route around Watford City, simply aren’t on the docket at this time.
“The Highway 85 improvements were designed to be turned into a four-lane divided highway, should that become an eventual need,” states Wilhelm. “But we have no plans for such a project at this time.”
Similarly, Watford City is in consideration for a bypass, but it hasn’t moved beyond that, to the process of planning and making it to the NDDOT’s project list.