Posted 9/12/12 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
Finding a way to keep the proposed truck reliever/bypass routes of U.S. Highway 85 and North Dakota Highway 23 as close to Watford City as possible, but still get the truck traffic away from the community, isn’t going to be easy.
As commercial and residential developments rapidly expand on the outskirts of Watford City, the availability of land for the proposed routes is rapidly vanishing. But engineers with the Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson engineering firm (KLJ) and the North Dakota Dept. of Transportation (NDDOT) think that they have finally got the possible corridors narrowed down.
And last Thursday, area residents got their chance to weigh in on the routes which would divert U.S. Highway 85 traffic either 2½ or four miles south of Watford City and then rejoin the highway two miles west of the community, while the plans for ND Highway 23 traffic would create a new route east of Watford City in the vicinity of the current ND 1806 and ND 23 intersection that would run southwest before hooking up with the new U.S. 85 route.
“I’m thinking it’s doable,” stated Pat Golberg, who operates a trucking firm south of Watford City. “I think they should keep the route as close to town as possible. The key is to get the trucks out of town. But they’ve got to have a good road so the trucks will use it.”
And that seems to be the sentiment of KLJ engineers who are being tasked with the job of finding the best route.
“There is a lot of balance in this project,” stated Tavis Wieber of KLJ, who is heading up the truck reliever/bypass project. “We don’t want the route too far from the city, but we want it far enough to get the traffic away.”
And getting the large volume of regional traffic that is using U.S. 85 away from Watford City is key to the planning efforts.
“According to our traffic studies, 76 percent of the traffic on U.S. 85 that is currently passing through Watford City is regional traffic,” stated Wieber. “And that traffic isn’t stopping in Watford City.”
The NDDOT estimates that 13,000 vehicles, of which 5,000 are trucks, are passing through Watford City per day either on U.S. 85 or on the current Highway 23 bypass.
While Wieber says that no decision as to whether or not the routes will be constructed as bypasses or truck reliver routes has been made, there is a fundamental difference between the two.
“Under a truck reliever route, the highways would continue into Watford City,” stated Wieber. “Trucks and other traffic would have to turn off the highways and then proceed on the new routes.”
But under a bypass system, the new routes would become the actual highway while the roads into Watford City would become business routes.
“We’re not going to have a perfect route that makes everyone happy,” stated Wieber. “But we want to have the best route that we can.”
While there were pros and cons of the various routes being presented as options, Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor, was of the opinion that the best routes would be those that were as close to the city as possible.
“Getting traffic away from the city is not going to be easy,” stated Sanford. “But as we have received input from landowners and business people, the preferred route for U.S. 85 seems to be the one that diverts traffic starting approximately 2½ miles south of Watford City and then connects with the highway west of town at the top of Madson Flats.”
As for the reroute of Highway 23 on the east side of Watford City, Sanford indicated that there was support for a plan that started the reroute east of Power Fuels and then heading west to stay as close to the airport as possible before joining U.S. Highway 85 south of Watford City.
According to Wieber, the final hearing on the project will not be held until late 2012 or early 2013, with the project planned to be ready for construction in 2014 depending upon funding.
According to Wieber, the rerouting of U.S. 85 and N.D. 23 are just two of the main road projects being planned to handle the increased traffic volumes in and around Watford City.
“This is going to be a central area for road construction in the future,” stated Wieber. “The NDDOT has projects pending that will include the four-laning of U.S. 85 from Watford City to Williston, as well as widening U.S. 85 to allow for three to five lanes of traffic through Watford City, and creating passing lanes and the widening of ND 23 east of Watford City.”
But for some people like Bill Rafferty, who live south of Watford City, the highway improvements can’t come soon enough.
“The traffic is ruining the quality of our lives,” stated Rafferty. “We absolutely need to have something done. The sooner the better.”