May 12, 2010

Highway 85 opens to limited traffic

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

Road construction is never fun to deal with, but it’s an even bigger headache when the work causes area roads to be closed off to traffic completely. And that is something many McKenzie County residents and travelers who use Highway 85 south of Watford City are well aware of.
After nearly two weeks of being closed, Highway 85 south of Watford City has reopened to limited traffic, a welcome announcement for many county residents. Unfortunately, for truck drivers, the road has only been opened to those traveling by car.
“We had to close Highway 85 due to recent rains,” says Joel Wilt, North Dakota Department of Transportation assistant district engineer. “The area we took the asphalt off became unstable and we had trucks getting stuck, leaving us with only one option - to close the road.”
According to Wilt, the sub grade soils in the area of the closure are very silty which causes them to become extremely weak when wet.
“Right now, we have the pavement removed for about one mile,” adds Wilt. “During the removal operation the plans call for the asphalt and aggregate base to be removed and mixed with more aggregate to make a new salvaged base. By doing this the sub grade soils are exposed to the elements, causing them to become saturated with the recent rain.”
To get this area back to driving condition, crews placed reinforcement fabric on top of the sub grade soils and topped that with scoria as a temporary fix to the problem.
“We were able to reopen the highway on Friday,” states Wilt. “To start with, we opened the road only to car traffic. Truck traffic will resume as soon as we can be reasonably sure the temporary fix will hold.”
In the meantime the truck traffic is being detoured around the one mile work area, a detour of about 75 miles.
Although having the road closed has been a pain for area drivers, it has also been difficult for Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
“While the road was closed we had a lot of people thinking that the park was also closed,” says Eric Hougland, Theodore Roosevelt National Park North District interpreter. “Even when the road was closed, the park was open and it will remain open throughout the road construction season. The construction area doesn’t start until after the park entrance for those coming from Watford City, and for those coming from the South Unit, there are detours that allow people access to the park.”
Hopefully, the road will not need to be closed again. But if so, Hougland stresses that the North Unit will stay open, especially since its summer season gets underway Memorial Day weekend with extended visitor center hours and the season’s first wilderness hike.
“Our goal is to re-open Highway 85 and maintain traffic rain or shine,” states Wilt. “And that is something that we are working on with the contractor, to adjust the construction sequencing to achieve this goal. We ask that travelers and the trucking industry bear with us during this time, and we apologize for the inconvenience.”