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DOT to study four-lane for U.S. 85

Posted 5/09/12 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

While an actual four-lane of U.S. Highway 85 from Watford City to Williston could very well be years in the future, the North Dakota Dept. of Transportation (NDDOT) has begun taking the initial steps of making that a reality.
On May 1, the NDDOT announced that it would be taking public comment until May 15 on a $2.5 million amendment to its 2012-2015 State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) for preparing an environmental document for making U.S. Highway 85 from Watford City to Williston a four-lane undivided highway.
Conducting an environmental document, according to Bob Fode, director of Project Development with the NDDOT, is the first step in a very long process to upgrade the highway to four-lane.
“The environmental document will examine the route for possible impacts to wetlands, cultural or endangered species,” states Fode. “At this time, we don’t know if we will have to do an Environmental Assessment or if we will have to do a complete Environmental Impact Statement.”
Fode says that the level of environmental study that the department will have to do will be based on the comments that the NDDOT receives on the addition of the project to its 2012-2015 STIP.
“We hope that we will be able to do just an environmental assessment versus an environment impact statement,” states Fode. “An assessment can normally be done much faster than can an environmental impact statement.”
The NDDOT, according to Fode, hopes to move forward with the preparation of environmental documents and initial design work as soon as possible after the public comment period ends.
“At the end of the comment period, the NDDOT will begin looking at hiring an engineering firm to do the environmental document as well as begin the design process,” states Fode. “Based on federal guidelines, we will only be able to do 30 percent of the engineering of the upgrade of the highway during the preparation of the environmental document.”
Persons who are interested in commenting on the proposed STIP change have until May 15 to contact the NDDOT. Comments can be sent to Chad M. Orn at NDDOT, 608 E. Boulevard  Ave., Bismarck, ND 58505-0700 or by e-mail to corn@nddot.gov with “2012 State Federal-Aid Roadway Projects” in the subject line.
While Fode says that it is highly doubtful that the environmental document will be done this summer, area motorists will once again see considerable road work on U.S. Highway 85 between Watford City and Williston.
“The NDDOT will be adding one mile extensions on between seven and eight of the existing passing lanes between Watford City and Williston,” states Fode. “These one mile extensions will provide for more passing opportunities on the highway.”
In addition, the NDDOT along with Plote Construction will begin major infrastructure improvements on U.S. Highway 85 as it passes through Alexander.
“We will be reconstructing Alexander’s Main Street and installing new curb and gutter along Main Street as part of the project,” states Fode.
And according to Robert Madden, senior project manager with Plote Construction, the five-month project in Alexander will definitely impact traffic flow through the community.
During the construction period, which is expected to last from May until mid-October, Madden says that the project will require multiple stages and lane configurations which will limit traffic lane widths to 12’ wide in each direction.