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Posted 8/12/14 (Tue)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor
Life just got a little easier, and safer, for the 12,000 motorists who are traveling every day up and down U.S. Highway 85 from Watford City and Williston as the North Dakota Dept. of Transportation last Friday opened the first four-lane segment on that busy highway. The 50-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 85 from Watford City to Williston, because of the increased traffic resulting from increased oil traffic, has become one of the busiest highways in North Dakota. And as accident statistics continue to reveal, with McKenzie County leading the state in highway fatalities, it is also one of the deadliest roads in the state.
The four-laning of U.S. Highway 85 is a welcome addition to western North Dakota. The NDDOT and the North Dakota Legislature are to be commended for moving forward as rapidly as they did in getting this highway upgraded to four-lane status. But the work on U.S. Highway is far from being completed. The 14-mile segment from Watford City to Alexander, which cost nearly $62 million, is just the first phase of a highway project. The next two phases, which include the upgrading of the highway from Alexander to Williston and the replacement of the Lewis & Clark Bridge over the Missouri River, are equally critical. And the good news is that both of those phases of construction are in the process of becoming a reality by next year.
As Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford said during Friday’s ceremonial ribbon-cutting that officially opened the road, “This is quite a day. To look at what we had three years ago compared to now is amazing. We’ve seen a huge shift in the quality of life. This is truly a transformational day in McKenzie County.”
The four-laning of Highway 85, along with the new bypasses of Watford City and Alexander, which will be completed by fall, is truly transformational.
Traffic congestion in Watford City and Alexander had reached unmanageable conditions with Highway 85 bisecting both communities, as well as N.D. Highway 23 running through Watford City. But with these highway improvements, there is now finally light at the end of the tunnel, and a sense of normalcy may finally return to in city traffic.
All told, the four-laning of U.S. Highway 85, the replacement bridge over the Missouri River, and the bypasses around Watford City and Alexander will have cost the state $450.3 million. That is a huge commitment by the State of North Dakota in improving traffic and safety conditions in one of the busiest areas in the state. But it is money well spent.
The oil patch region of North Dakota needs to have highways that not only can accommodate the increased traffic that the region is experiencing, but also provide for the safety of the motorists and bring a quality of life to the residents that live there.
The opening of the first segment of U.S. Highway 85 to four-lane traffic marks the beginning of that.