Posted 6/15/11 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
Chalk up another North Dakota highway closed in and around McKenzie County for the summer because of damage caused by heavy oilfield traffic and record moisture.
On Monday, June 13, North Dakota Highway 1806, which is the major state highway that funnels traffic from northern McKenzie County to Highway 23, as well as serves as the only paved road that leads to the Tobacco Gardens Recreation Area, was closed to local traffic.
“This is a 100 percent safety issue,” states Walt Peterson, district engineer with the Williston office of the North Dakota Dept. of Transportation (NDDOT). “Barricades and signs closing the highway to everything but local traffic are going up.”
“N.D. 1806 has become inundated with breakups and pavement deterioration beyond repair,” stated Peterson. “The Department is working on a contract to grind up the existing pavement and base, add some gravel, and maintain the gravel surface until we can find the resources to widen the roadway, place new base gravel, and asphalt paving sufficient enough to support the heavier loads generated by the industry.”
While N.D. Highway 1806 will be open to local traffic, Peterson also noted that because of the number of oil wells that are located along the highway, the Department will be working with companies to provide for access to these sites.
“Those living along N.D. 1806 will be allowed to travel to the nearest detour location for access,” stated Peterson. “Also, oil operators needing to get to oil locations isolated from other roadways can use minimum mileage for that purpose.”
In addition, according to Peterson, the highway will revert to an 80,000 pound limit effective Monday, with any permitting being based on that limit.
The DOT has also established, and is in the process of signing a new detour route to Tobacco Gardens Recreation Area. The route will require travelers from western McKenzie County and eastern Montana to take N.D. 23 east and north to McKenzie County 10 (north of Keene), then west on McKenzie County 10 (39th Street) to McKenzie County 43, then northbound on McKenzie County 43 to meet with N.D. 1806 near Tobacco Gardens Recreation Area.
But a detour of that magnitude is a major concern of Peggy Hellandsaas, who operates Tobacco Gardens Resort.
“I’ve lost 25 percent of my business because of the poor condition of Highway 1806 already,” states Hellandsaas. “We are a destination recreation area not only for our campground and our access to Lake Sakakawea, but we also have weddings and other parties and events scheduled here this summer. This is going to be a big setback for us. But hopefully, our customers will drive the extra miles that it takes to get to the lake.”
Once the highway has been closed, the NDDOT will move forward with plans to repair the roadway.
“Our goal is to have a bid letting in July to remove the asphalt surface from Highway 1806,” stated Peterson. “Then we will be able to get some gravel on it.”
According to Peterson, the highway will remain in a gravel condition until the department can find funds to redo the highway.
“It could be a gravel road for possibly one or two years,” states Peterson. “But when we rebuild the road, it will have wider shoulders, a wider driving surface and be designed for a weight limit of 105,500 pounds, which is our standard highway specifications.”
But for Hellandsaas and others who have been forced to travel over the rutted highway since spring, they question why the DOT did not do more maintenance to keep the highway open.
“We know that it is a safety issue now,” says Hellandsaas. “But we just don’t understand why they didn’t do more to try to fix all of the potholes before the roadway finally broke up.”