Posted 6/03/09 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
A mere hundred and 50 years ago, rivers and railroads provided the transportation network of this great country and helped spur this country’s industrial and economical development. Cities that were located along these transportation corridors grew and prospered, while cities that lacked the proximity to the these major rivers and railroads found themselves in a constant struggle to survive.
And when the construction of the nation’s interstate system was initiated in the late 1950s, the new highway system logically followed the rivers, railroads and highways again linking the major cities of the country together in a way that ensured the smooth flow of commerce across the United States.
Having a quality transportation system was key to economic growth and viability of regions of the country.
And now at long last, it appears that western North Dakota could have a chance to see a major improvement in U.S. Highway 85. Improvements that could help foster the development of this region’s agriculture and energy industries and in turn bring economic stability and growth to communities along this major north-south highway.
Or at least that is the hope and dream of the communities and organizations that make up the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway Association (TREA), which is promoting the updating of the northern segment of Highway 85 from Rapid City, S.D. to the Port of Raymond and then into Canada.
Initially TREA is proposing improving the two-lane highway into a super two highway format, which would provide for wider shoulders, passing lanes on hills, and placing turning lanes at intersections to help improve overall travel efficiency and safety.
Making these improvements to Highway 85 are vital not only to the region but to the nation as well.
Consider if you will:
• Highway 85 is part of a major north-south corridor that runs from Canada to Mexico. And the 197-mile stretch of the highway in North Dakota is a vital artery for the state’s agriculture and energy industries to transport goods and conduct business.
• Highway 85 is the major transportation corridor serving the Williston Basin. It is a collector for six major east-west highway systems that service major gas plants and oil fields scattered up and down the Williston Basin. It serves as a major route for the transport of oil rigs, pipe, steel, and supplies.
• Four hundred thousand barrels of oil a day are produced in the Williston Basin region and a large percentage of it is hauled over Highway 85 to tank farms for transport via pipeline.
• Highway 85 is also a vital connection for the region’s agriculture industry and the transportation of crops and livestock.
The importance of U.S. Highway 85 not only to western North Dakota, but to the rest of the nation was driven home when U.S. Senator Kent Conrad, who is the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, held a congressional hearing in Williston last week to examine the condition of U.S. Highway 85 and its impact on the energy, agriculture and manufacturing economies in the region.
It is Conrad’s hopes that as a result of the hearing, he will be able to secure federal funds in the next highway bill to make improvements in Highway 85.
Having Senator Conrad going to bat for improvements to U.S. Highway 85 is a significant accomplishment for the TREA.
Granted, the process of securing funds more likely will be a long one. But, with the nation’s need for energy and food growing, the time may be right for improving a highway that can deliver both of these much needed resources to the rest of the nation.