Posted 3/07/12 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
“Go West,” was almost the unanimous consensus of the nearly 75 Alexander residents who attended the first public meeting on a proposed U.S. Highway 85 bypass or truck reliever route around the community.
With hundreds of semi trucks daily rumbling through Alexander’s Main Street as they make their way north and south on U.S. Highway 85, Alexander residents know full well the safety concerns associated with this increased traffic, as well as the problems that it is causing to local traffic flow.
According to Becky Rude, project manager for Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson, the engineering firm that is developing the Draft Environmental Assessment of a highway bypass around Alexander, traffic on U.S. Highway 85, which also serves as Alexander’s Main Street, has increased 194 percent from 2006 to 2011.
“One of the priorities of either a bypass or a truck reliever route is to accommodate the truck traffic and to keep traffic moving at 65 mph,” stated Rude. “With the existing route, there are also safety concerns with children trying to cross the highway to get to school as well as traffic concerns as local traffic tries to get onto the highway because of the traffic volume.”
During Thursday night’s public input meeting, Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson presented three different options of alternative routes that would divert traffic around Alexander. Two of the options would run the proposed route to the east side of the community, while one other option took the route to the west side of Alexander.
But the east options were opposed by most Alexander area residents because of its possible impact on the Alexander school.
“It looks to me like the east route would pass between 150 and 200 feet of the east wing of our school,” stated Mike Klabo, Alexander school superintendent. “I’m concerned about the increased safety concerns with a highway being that close to our school. There are concerns of hazard materials, accidents, as well as the pollution and garbage coming into the playground. I’m just concerned about that amount of traffic being that close to our school.”
But it just wasn’t concerns about safety of the school that drew concerns from Alexander residents if a route east of the community was selected.
“If you go east of town, you’ll kill this town,” stated Ray Mrachek. “The city of Alexander can only grow to the east. Plus, there are currently four oil wells right where you have the road planned on the east side of Alexander. I’d prefer to see the route go farther to the west.”
The option that the majority of Alexander residents actually preferred was a route approximately one-half mile west of the existing highway.
“There is an old saying, 'Go West. Go West,'” stated Larry Novak. “There is less impact to the community by taking the route farther to the west.”
Responding to a question from Walt Peterson, district engineer with the North Dakota Dept. of Transportation as to how far is too far when it comes to moving the route to the west, Novak stated he believed the community would grow toward the road.
According to Gabe Schell of Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson, the study is looking at developing either a bypass or reliever route around Alexander. And those two options significantly differ in how traffic flow is managed.
“Under a bypass, U.S. Highway 85 would be realigned around the city of Alexander and traffic would need to turn off the highway to enter the city,” stated Schell. “With a truck reliever route, U.S. Highway 85 would continue through Alexander and would require trucks to turn off the highway to use the truck reliever route.”
Schell also pointed out the proposed project would be designed for an ultimate build for an undivided four-lane highway.
During Thursday night’s meeting, discussion also turned to the future plans for U.S. Highway 85 and the ineffectiveness of the Super 2 concept for the highway.
“Are we going to go to four lane?” asked Kit James. “The passing lanes are a death trap!”
“The intent of the passing lanes on U.S. Highway 85 was to give motorists a chance to pass slower moving traffic,” stated Peterson. “The future plans are to build a four-lane. But there are no time frames set. It depends on federal funding.”
According to Rude, Thursday night’s meeting was just the first of several opportunities that Alexander area residents will have to comment on the bypass project around their community.
“There will be another public hearing in November,” stated Rude. “The goal is to have the plan completed in February of 2014 and then wait for funding to build the project.”
Persons who want to make comments on the project have until March 16 to submit them. Written comments should be mailed to Becky Rude, project manager, Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson, 128 Soo Line Drive, Bismarck, ND 58501 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.