Posted 5/20/14 (Tue)
By Neal A. Shipman
While dirt work is already progressing on the Highway 85 bypass that will reroute truck traffic around the west side of Watford City, ground was officially broken last week for a second bypass on the city’s east side.
“This is where it all connects,” stated Governor Jack Dalrymple as he joined other state, city and county officials on May 15 to break ground for the Highway 23 bypass. “This is a great project that will significantly enhance traffic flow and reduce truck traffic in Watford City.”
The Watford City Southeast Bypass, which will re-route truck traffic from N.D. Highway 23 to the southeast of Watford City, will cost $50.3 million and consist of building a six-mile stretch of four-lane roadway that will tie into the Southwest Bypass on the south side of Watford City.
The two bypasses, which will cost an estimated $130 million, are expected to be completed by the end of the 2014 construction season.
Watford City, which is in the epicenter of the Bakken oil play, saw nearly 3,900 trucks pass through the city on a daily basis last year.
And the possibility of seeing the end of truck traffic in Watford City had Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor smiling.
“It is hard to believe the tankers won’t be going through the center of Watford City anymore,” stated Sanford. “This is a huge moment for our town. And we give our thanks to the leadership in Bismarck for recognizing our need and taking care of it.”
According to Sanford, once the two bypasses are completed this fall, the traffic loop around Watford City will be completed, and traffic issues within the city will begin to be solved.
And thanks to state funding, according to North Dakota Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner of Dickinson, Watford City area residents will soon see traffic volumes within the city limits return to more normal levels.
“This is an exciting and urgent day for this area,” stated Wardner. “We need to get the quality of life back to the people of Watford City. And this bypass will help.”
According to Wardner, the goal of the state in building the bypasses around Watford City was not only to accommodate the growth in traffic, but to return Watford City to a normal community.
“The bypass is the beginning of moving Watford City forward,” stated Wardner.
“This investment in Watford City will enhance traffic flow in the area,” stated Grant Levi, North Dakota Dept. of Transportation director. “These new truck bypass projects will provide alternative routes for trucks around Watford City and help to enhance the quality of life for the region’s citizens.”
But Watford City is not the only community in western North Dakota that will be benefitting from a new bypass as similar projects are underway in Alexander, New Town, Williston and Dickinson.
According to Dalrymple, the state is investing $409 million to cover all costs for the construction of truck bypass routes for these oil-impacted communities.
“These bypasses will provide greatly needed traffic relief to these growing communities and enhance road safety,” Dalrymple said. “The work that begins on these projects today is part of the most ambitious infrastructure improvement program in state history and represents our ongoing commitment to helping our western North Dakota communities meet the challenges of rapid growth.”
While state officials are pouring more and more funds into improving infrastructure in western North Dakota’s oil patch, the governor acknowledged that there is still more to do.
“There is a lot left to do here,” stated Dalrymple. “We believe your city and county officials when they say what their needs are. And we are working to get them the money they need.”
According to Dalrymple, he has met with Sanford on Watford City’s needs going forward and the state has developed a plan to get the city the money it needs.
“Watford City needs over $200 million in the next year,” stated Dalrymple. “Following our meeting with Mayor Sanford, we came up with a plan to make it happen.”
While Watford City has projects that need to be met, according to Ron Anderson, McKenzie County commissioner, so does the county.
“It’s no secret that there were many of us in western North Dakota that were disappointed with what happened in terms of funding from the Legislature last session,” stated Anderson. “But now the people in Bismarck know how intense the activity is here.”
According to Anderson, the area of the Bakken oil play has gotten smaller, not larger, in North Dakota, and that most of the oil activity is concentrated in McKenzie, Mountrail, Williams and Dunn counties.
“One of the major road projects that we need to build in McKenzie County is a northern route that will take some of the heavy oilfield traffic and run it across the northern portion of the county where the drilling is occurring,” stated Anderson. “And the governor has agreed to this northern route.”
According to Levi, the 2013 and 2014 construction seasons represent the largest road construction programs in North Dakota’s history, with more than $1.6 billion in bids for roadway projects alone.