April 24, 2013

DOT moving forward with U.S. 85 plans

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

Talk of how to help alleviate western North Dakota’s congested traffic, especially on U.S. Highway 85 between Watford City and Williston, has been slow-going until recently. Thanks to some fast-tracking by the North Dakota Legislature, funding to expand U.S. Highway 85, as well as construct the bypass corridors in Alexander and Watford City has been made available so that construction on these projects can begin this summer.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation has released information concerning future plans to four-lane U.S. Highway 85 between Williston and Watford City, as well as to construct bypass corridor routes around Alexander and Watford City.  
Jamie Olson, of the NDDOT, states that five projects are scheduled to be underway during the 2013 and 2014 construction seasons that will bring relief to the congestion and fearful driving conditions area residents have been experiencing.
“Later this summer, we will hopefully begin construction to turn Highway 85 from Watford City to McKenzie County Road 16, which is north of Alexander, into a four-lane divided highway with left- and right-hand turning lanes,” states Olson. “We will also begin building the first phase of the Watford City bypass, which will divert U.S. Highway 85 traffic to the west and south of Watford City.”
The remaining three projects, which are slated to begin in 2014, are the four-laning of Highway 85 from McKenzie County Road 16 to Williston, including the Lewis & Clark Bridge, the Alexander bypass corridor, and the second phase of the Watford City bypass corridor, which will help connect N.D. Highway 23 east of Watford City to U.S. Highway 85 south of Watford City.
According to Olson, barring problems with final environmental approval, design completion and the NDDOT’s ability to obtain right of way, the NDDOT will start the bidding process in May.
Though there are still some barriers to overcome, Olson states the NDDOT is confident construction on these two projects should be able to begin this summer.
“The North Dakota Legislature, in February, designated $620 million to move forward on these projects,” states Olson. “It is for this reason that we will be able to bid these projects in May, and therefore, start construction this summer versus having to wait. The state worked hard to provide the funding so we could get these projects done by the fall.”
And with such limited time to build roads in North Dakota, Olson states that every month counts.
“A few extra months makes a huge difference when you only have so few months to work with,” states Olson. “With such a short construction season, we have to take advantage of what we can.”
The four-laning of U.S. Highway 85 will consist of eight feet of shoulder, beside two 12-foot driving lanes on both sides of the highway. The driving lanes will be separated by a 20-foot concrete median. Turning lanes will also be part of the NDDOT’s design for the highway.
“Safety is always our number one priority,” states Peggy Anderson, who is a member of the NDDOT’s Communication Division. “Which is why the design for Highway 85 has many safety features.”
According to Anderson, rumble strips will line both sides of the median, along with being placed throughout the median as well. There will also be heavy yellow lines to clearly define the turning lanes and separate them from the non-driving areas.
Anderson also states that the turning lanes themselves are safety features because they remove turning vehicles out of the flow of traffic.
The cost, according to Anderson, to four-lane Highway 85 from Watford City to Williston will be around $300 million.
“Five years ago, the NDDOT’s construction program for the whole state was approximately $250 million,” states Anderson. “This is the largest project we have undertaken, and hopefully shows that the state is committed to relieving traffic problems in western North Dakota.”
As for Phase 1 of the Watford City bypass corridor, Anderson states that the west entrance will begin 3½ miles west of Watford City and will reconnect with U.S. Highway 85 3½ miles south of Watford City. The total length will be 6½ miles long.
Anderson states that Phase 2, which is scheduled to begin construction next summer, will connect to Phase 1 at a traffic light south and west of Watford City, near County Road 14.
Anderson estimates that the bypass route will remove roughly 4,000 semis from the city’s downtown traffic.