Highway 85 opens to four-lane traffic
By Stephanie Allums
Farmer Staff Writer
The first cluster of semi-trucks, cars and pickups were escorted down the freshly-paved, westbound lanes of the U.S. Highway 85 four-lane stretch between Watford City and Alexander on Friday, Aug. 8.
Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley joined North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) Director Grant Levi, along with other state and local officials, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of the phase one portion of the Highway 85 four-lane project.
This 14-mile stretch of divided four-lane highway cost nearly $62 million, according to Levi. The three main objectives for this project are to enhance traffic, the quality of life and road safety.
“With over 12,000 vehicles a day traveling on this section of road, this expansion will greatly enhance the movement of traffic in the area,” Levi said.
The Highway 85 project consists of three construction phases that will create additional driving lanes and a median, which will make for safer travelling, according to Levi.
“This is going to be a Godsend for safety on this road,” State Representative Keith Kempenich said.
“This is quite a day,” Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford said. “It’s been three years since this project initially began - and that’s pretty fast for a highway project. To look at what we had three years ago compared to now is amazing. We’ve seen a huge shift in the quality of life. This is truly a transformational day in McKenzie County.”
The North Dakota Legislature passed Senate Bill 2176 to make funding available early, Levi said. This is what enabled the NDDOT to get started on road projects, such as Highway 85, last spring.
“The taxpayers of North Dakota have a lot of support and understand the importance of these projects,” Lt. Wrigley said. “At the end of the day, these projects are essential to the state-wide infrastructure, public safety and the commerce in the communities. We are dealing with the number one economy in the country. To some people, this may look like chaos, but it’s organized chaos. This is not going to go away; it’s going to lead to prosperity.”
Phase two of the Highway 85 project is currently underway. And contracts for phase three were recently awarded. These phases will include the completion of four-laning of U.S. Highway 85 from north of Alexander to Williston and will include the replacement of the Lewis & Clark Bridge over the Missouri River near Williston.
The 2013-2014 construction seasons have been the largest road construction seasons in state history, according to the NDDOT. Roughly $409 million has been invested into truck-reliever routes and bypasses around Watford City, Alexander, Williston, Dickinson, and New Town to enhance traffic movement and congestion.
“Significant progress has been made on transportation projects throughout North Dakota,” Wrigley said. “We have witnessed work advancing on several construction projects in this area, illustrating the state’s commitment to helping western North Dakota communities meet the challenges of rapid growth. The opportunities here are incredible.”
The state will invest $2.7 billion to support the oil and gas region during the current biennium, according to a press release from the governor’s office. It will include funding for highway, county and township road improvements, water supply and water treatment projects, and the development of affordable housing.
The NDDOT has developed a new tool for travelers to keep up with road projects. By visiting www.nddotwilliston.com, people can sign up to receive text messages about road projects, road closings and detours.