Posted 7/03/12 (Tue)
By Neal A. Shipman
You can imagine the surprise that Watford City officials had last week when they got their first look of at proposed truck reliever route system that the city had requested the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) to develop in order to funnel some of the heavy truck traffic away from the city.
Surprised probably isn’t the word to best describe the city’s reaction to what they saw. Perhaps better adjectives would be shocked, angry, and downright indignant.
Instead of a system of truck reliever routes that would be situated on the city’s south, west and east sides that would move oilfield truck traffic on U.S. Highway 85 and N.D. 23 away from normal traffic that is using these highways, city officials and others at the public meeting were presented with proposals that looked an awful lot like highway bypasses.
To make the matter even worse for city officials, these proposed routes were located so far away from the existing city limits that it would be virtually impossible for the general traveling public to even be aware that Watford City was just up the road.
And Curt Moen, city planner, and Brent Sanford, city mayor, laid it out pretty clear to the design team from Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson (KLJ), the engineering firm hired by the NDDOT to develop the truck reliever/bypass routes, as well as to NDDOT officials at the meeting, that this was not what the city wanted. As Moen stated at the meeting, “A full bypass would do nothing for the city. If it (the planning process) proceeds in this manner, the city may withdraw its support of the project. This is going to a full bypass of Watford City, which was never our intent.”
While everyone agrees that something desperately needs to be done to help shift the truck traffic on U.S. Highway 85 and N.D. 23 around Watford City, a full scale bypass of the city is not what anyone locally had in mind. With nearly 13,000 vehicles a day, of which approximately 30 to 40 percent are trucks, passing through the junction of U.S. 85 and the city’s Main Street, the need for a truck reliever route is obvious.
But somewhere along the line, KLJ and the NDDOT, in their infinite wisdom, decided that in order to allow traffic to move at regular highway speeds and not have to slow down coming into Watford City, the best solution was simply to reroute these two major highways around town.
Transportation, whether it is highways or railroads, is the lifeblood of a community. If a community is going to grow and prosper, it needs to be on major highways that funnel traffic in and out of town. Whether the traffic is truck or regular traffic or summer vacationers, highways bring to the community people who shop in our stores, eat in our restaurants, stay in our motels and visit our parks, museums, and other amenities.
When the highways are moved away from the community and cities are bypassed, the towns no longer prosper and grow. It is a story that was seen across the country when the U.S. Interstate system was developed. Towns that were bypassed by the interstate, withered and died, while towns along the interstate were able to grow and develop.
The last thing that Watford City wants or needs as it prepares for the biggest growth in its history, is to suddenly have its two major highways completely bypass the city.
Hopefully, KLJ and the NDDOT heard loud and clear that what Watford City is looking for is a system of truck reliever routes and not highway bypasses.