March 9, 2011

More improvements coming to U.S. Highway 85

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

More passing lanes and a widened roadway are all on tap for U.S. Highway 85 this summer as the North Dakota Dept. of Transportation (DOT) finalizes plans for improving the highway between Watford City and Williston.
While many area residents have been clamoring to see U.S. Highway 85 improved to either four-lane status or a Super 2 status, Walt Peterson, Williston District Engineer, says that the changes being planned for the approximately 48-mile stretch of highway between Watford City and Williston will go a long way toward meeting the increased traffic loads.
“What the Department is proposing is to provide one-mile-long passing lanes spaced every five miles between Watford City and Williston,” stated Peterson. “There will be a total of 10 passing lanes with five in the northbound lane and five in the southbound lanes, and they will be staggered every five miles.”
In addition, as part of the project which is estimated to cost $35 million, the DOT is also proposing to include new climbing lanes on hills for slower moving vehicles, to realign several curves to meet current speed limits and to increase the thickness of the pavement.
But U.S. Highway 85 from Watford City to Williston is not the only stretch of 85 that will see improvements this summer. According to Peterson, U.S. Highway 85 South from the Long X Bridge to Grassy Butte will be paved and the stretch from Fairfield to Grassy Butte will be resurfaced.
“All of the state’s roads in western North Dakota were built to handle the agriculture traffic of the past,” states Peterson, who was in Watford City last Wednesday as part of a Farmers Union Insurance public forum on roads and highway safety issues. “All of a sudden, oil came along and we’re dealing with a whole different set of needs for the roadways.”
And the spike in traffic as a result of the increased oil traffic is the major reason that the DOT is pushing not only for major improvements on U.S. Highway 85, but other state and county roads as well.
While Peterson says that U.S. Highway 85 will see a lot of improvement this summer, so could many other state and county highways.
“House Bill 1012, which is making its way through the North Dakota Legislature, is proposing that an additional $228.8 million be made available for state highway improvements in the 17 oil-impacted counties of western North Dakota,” stated Peterson. “In addition, the bill also provides for $142 million that will be available for counties and townships in those 17 oil-impacted counties for road improvements.”
The $142 million, according to Peterson, will address the greatest local road needs in the oil-impacted counties.
“House Bill 1012 is providing these monies over and above what the counties currently receive for road improvements,” stated Peterson. “Because the bill has an emergency clause attached to it, should the bill pass this legislative session and the governor sign it, the money will be immediately available to the counties. Our goal is to have the plans ready for summer construction on these county roads.”