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Study looks at improvements needed on U.S. 85

Posted 7/28/10 (Wed)

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

Phase I of the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway Corridor Study has been completed. The study was aimed at identifying transportation needs on area highways, including United States Highway 85 which runs between Williston and Grassy Butte.
For anyone who drives this stretch of road, it is easy to see that it could use some improvements, and that is exactly what the Corridor Study indicated.
“The TRE Corridor Study is being developed to identify long-range needs,” says Bob Shannon, Kadrmas, Lee and Jackson, Inc. project manager. “However, throughout the long-range planning, we noticed some issues that would benefit from immediate attention, and the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) has begun working on those issues.”
The NDDOT will be putting $71.2 million into Highway 85 roadway improvement projects over the next four years. However, during last week’s TRE Corridor Study Public Input Meeting, some of the attendees were concerned that what the NDDOT has planned just isn’t enough, especially since the study used transportation statistics from 2008.
“I have been driving back and forth to Williston for 10 years, and I know for a fact that the amount of traffic has increased by a lot, and it continues to increase,” states Jim Svihovec, Watford City resident. “What I want to know is how the NDDOT expects a Super 2 highway to handle this area’s increasing traffic while remaining a safe road?”
Svihovec wasn’t alone with his concerns. The majority of the public input revolved around his concern and the fact that TRE meetings have been going on for the past 18 months, and area residents are ready to see some action other than talking come from this study.
“I’ve been to a lot of meetings about the roads,” says David Drovdal, District 39 Legislative Representative. “When you look at $71.2 million over four years and compare it to the amount of revenue the state is going to bring in over those four years, the state will be bringing in a lot more than $71.2 million. When these meetings started 18 months ago, a Super 2 highway was adequate, but it’s not anymore. What we need now is to see some action and get something done to make these roads safer. People at these meetings keep telling us that safety is number one. I’m not seeing that, because nothing is getting done. There is no price tag for people being killed on our roadways, and in order to stop that, we need some action.”
Although meeting attendees are concerned that these meetings are producing nothing more than conversations, the NDDOT was defended through construction projects that started earlier this summer.
“The NDDOT has construction going on right now as a result of this study,” adds Shannon. “They are working on putting added turning and passing lanes in this summer and next summer. Those added lanes will help alleviate some pressure now, where putting in a four-lane highway would take five years. So no matter what the NDDOT decides to do with this roadway, the current and planned construction will help now and play into their future plans.”
Residents know that it costs a lot of money to make road improvements and even more money to turn a roadway into a four-lane highway. But as one attendee pointed out, this Corridor Study itself cost $300,000, a large amount of money that she thought would have been better used had it been turned into actual construction.
“I know it is difficult sometimes to understand the need for studies and meetings,” says Jack Olson, NDDOT. “But, if we jump into things too quickly, we could be left with a lot of infrastructure and money going into a short-term need. The preliminary estimate to construct a four-lane highway is $5 billion, and after construction, we have to maintain it even if the amount of truck traffic goes down. When it comes down to it, we are left with the matter of how we pay for all of that.”
“The traffic in this area isn’t going to go down,” says Kent Pelton, Watford City resident. “The oil industry expects to add three or four times the number of existing wells over the next year. Even if pipelines are put in to move that oil, the production work alone will equal today’s traffic numbers.”
While the meeting ended with no solution to the problem, the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway Association received a lot of public input to help them understand the needs of the area.
If you missed the Public Input Meeting, you can still make your opinion count. Kadrmas, Lee and Jackson, Inc. will be accepting written statements until Aug. 21, 2010.
“Written statements are the very best way to get your input to us,” says Shannon. “Public input has been a valuable tool for us throughout this project and we urge anyone with ideas or concerns to send us a statement.”
Written statements can be e-mailed to Shannon at bob.shannon@kljeng.com or mailed to him at Kadrmas, Lee and Jackson, Inc., 128 Soo Line Drive, Bismarck, N.D. 58501.