September 7, 2011

Reliever route around city discussed

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

Good things came out of last Tuesday’s Theodore Roosevelt Expressway meeting, namely an acknowledgement by the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) that something has to be done about U.S. Highway 85.
According to Francis Ziegler, NDDOT director, all routes in oil-producing counties have seen increased traffic, and the NDDOT has been conducting studies to best handle the situation.
“However, we had to do something much quicker than the study would allow us to do,” states Ziegler. “Thus grew the concept of the Super 2 for U.S. Highway 85.”
“Getting the DOT to commit to the Super 2 concept is huge,” states Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor.
According to Gene Veeder, Theodore Roosevelt Expressway president, the Super 2 is not a four-lane undivided highway. But it’s one step closer.
A Super 2 is a two-lane undivided highway that has been widened at certain locations to provide passing lanes to ease congestion.
“It’s not everything we hoped for, but it’s a good start in helping us move traffic now,” says Veeder. “It also starts the widening process to get us to a four-lane undivided highway.”
Some may have left Tuesday’s meeting scratching their heads, because the NDDOT seemed to present more problems than solutions, but Sanford says it was a necessary part of the process.
“It was a big first step, considering that a year ago, the DOT didn’t think anything needed to be done with U.S. Highway 85,” states Sanford.
“We’ve gotten a lot done since then,” Sanford reports.
Not only has the DOT acknowledged the need for U.S. Highway 85 to be a Super 2, but they’ve already begun construction between Watford City and Williston with hopes of having it completed by October.
In addition, the NDDOT has been repairing roads, and they will install three traffic lights around Watford City, two south of town at the corner by the Kum & Go and where the highway meets the N.D. Highway 23 Bypass.
More importantly, Watford City and other oil-producing communities have started the process of talking with the NDDOT about reliever routes.
While a reliever route is essentially a truck bypass, its goal is not to bypass the town, which is what has many Watford City residents concerned. The purpose of a reliever route is to bring relief from truck traffic, while still keeping the city accessible.
That was primarily the purpose of Tuesday’s meeting. Though it may not have seemed like it to some, Veeder says it was important.
“The DOT needed to come and see that this concept has backing by our community and others dealing with the oil traffic,” states Veeder. “That’s why it was important for people to attend.”
While the meeting helped show the NDDOT that area residents are seriously considering reliever routes, it also revealed that the DOT may not  have funds for these projects.
“2011 was a record year for road construction,” Ziegler reports. “In 2010 we spent $442 million. This year we’ve spent $592 million to date.”
That figure accounts for road construction and improvements, as well as emergency repairs, which have completely taken the NDDOT by storm.
From fixing landslides on U.S. Highway 85 south of Watford City, and N.D. Highway 22 north of Dickinson, to flooded roads and potholes all over the state, emergency repairs have cost the DOT time and money.
“It’s a daunting task and we are concerned that we won’t get the federal funding we need,” states Ziegler. “But we will continue to work with our senator to get a bill that will be good for us.”
“The DOT has to worry about the state, and we have to worry about this area,” states Sanford.
Sanford indicates that city planners and officials will continue to meet with the NDDOT on an ongoing basis to address road issues around Watford City and continue discussions of a reliever route.