Posted 8/24/11 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
With thousands of oilfield-related trucks now traveling U.S. Highway 85 on a daily basis, the number one question on the minds of area residents is, “What improvements are in the works for this highway?”
And for residents of McKenzie County, some of those answers will be provided during the annual meeting of the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway Association (TREA), which will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 30 at Outlaws’ Bar & Grill in Watford City.
“We will be having representatives from the North Dakota Dept. of Transportation (DOT) at our annual meeting to discuss what improvements are ongoing, as well as what is being planned for U.S. Highway 85,” states Gene Veeder, TREA president.
Of particular interest to county residents, according to Veeder, will be the DOT’s plans for “reliever routes” around Watford City, Alexander and other communities along U.S. Highway 85.
“We encourage all area residents who are concerned about improvements to U.S. Highway 85 to attend the annual meeting,” states Veeder.
Since its formation, improving U.S. Highway 85 has been the top priority of the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway (TRE).
The TRE, perhaps more commonly known as Highway 85, is a federally-designated transportation corridor. As one of the busiest roadways in North Dakota, it is the northern third of the Ports to Plains Alliance (PPA), running from Rapid City, S.D., to Canada through the Port of Raymond in Montana. The TRE serves the Williston Basin as the central route for an expected 400,000 barrels of daily production to tank farms for pipeline transport.
The PPA is a proposed four-lane divided highway promoting trade and transportation nationally and internationally throughout the Great Plains Region. It begins in Laredo, Texas, and runs through nine states of the Great Plains region into Canada.
Cal Klewin, executive director of the TREA, says the first phase and main focus on Highway 85 is aimed at the portion of the corridor between Watford City and Williston.
“At the present time, passing lanes are being constructed, which will hopefully end up being an extension of a four-lane infrastructure and that’s going to improve the safety and efficiency of that portion of the corridor. That’s one of the busier areas because of the energy play in North Dakota,” says Klewin.
“Another thing we’re focusing on is widening the infrastructure (Long X Bridge) crossing the Little Missouri River in North Dakota; detours of 100 to 300 miles, depending on road conditions, can be costly to private industry and business and we’re looking at a bridge for the future that can handle over-height and over-width loads.”
Safety and long-term
Highway 85 will be updated from its current standard, two-lane format to a super two highway; the process will involve widening the shoulders, adding passing lanes on hills and placing turning lanes at intersections to help improve overall travel efficiency and safety.
Once that is finished, the TREA hopes to develop a complete four-lane infrastructure, which would complement the rest of the PPA, allowing the corridor to handle the influx of traffic.
“It’s come to the point where traffic is in such excess due to energy, agriculture and tourism that the congestion is land-locking some of the communities that rely on the infrastructure; you have people choosing not to take a route because of congestion and safety issues,” says Klewin. “We’ll hopefully be going into a phase of long-term planning, working with the Department of Transportation (DOT) to develop a corridor management plan to deal with issues along the expressway and the potential economic development in the region based on service transportation.”
According to a Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) document from the DOT, $47,301,627 of federal funding and DOT dollars has gone into improving the TRE since last summer. For an approved STIP, the federal government will match every dollar the DOT invests in the project. The TRE improvements are expected to be complete by the end of the year but Jack Olson, assistant division director in the planning asset management division with the DOT, says completion may be delayed due to the late spring. Projects relating to the TRE improvements are scheduled from 2012 into 2015 and are expected to cost $17,315,730.
“North Dakota is heavily dependent on federal aid for its highway system; we don’t have enough money to make large investments on every roadway without demand. We’re trying to get a handle on what infrastructure needs to be in place so traffic can be handled safely and efficiently,” says Olson. “The TRE is an important corridor in North Dakota. The DOT is looking at that corridor and others in the state, looking at the money we have to maintain safe flows. If we don’t have money, it doesn’t mean it’s not important, it just means there are limitations in resources.”
The DOT worked with the TREA to analyze traffic volumes and populations in western North Dakota, looking at demographics and other factors that would influence traffic on the TRE. They found the oil industry was the primary generator of traffic. Recent studies done by the Department of Commerce, says Olson, looked at how areas like Watford, Williston, Dickinson and Tioga will grow based on oil development and how much additional traffic will be put on the corridor as a result.
“For the long-term, we’re hoping to have a four-lane corridor through North Dakota but that will depend on funding so we’re just going to take it piece by piece,” says Klewin. “We feel very strongly that the TRE has huge potential to develop North Dakota’s economy in energy, agriculture, manufacturing and tourism.”