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Proposed truck reliever route draws criticism

Posted 2/15/12 (Wed)

By Lauren Billing
Farmer Staff Writer

Many Watford City and McKenzie County residents are beginning to see what a truck reliever route could mean for their neighborhood. And as a result they are staunchly responding, “Not in my backyard!”
The idea of a truck reliever route has been growing in McKenzie County for the past two years. The drive to see commerce brought through town is now being overshadowed by the desire for less semi-truck traffic.
Watford City and its officials have been working toward getting the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) to begin plans for a truck reliever route around Watford City. But, the overwhelming need for a reliever route does not solve the problem of where to put it.
The current plan, already submitted to the NDDOT, has the reliever route running from Power Fuels on Highway 23 east of Watford City, south around town to join Highway 85 west of Watford City at Madison Flats.
This route, however, has the potential to run through the front yards of many local residents. Residents like Pat Olson and Dwite Brew.
“This is a wonderful neighborhood,” says Olson. “We are long-term residents, some are even life-long. We are employers, employees, and good stewards of this county. And we feel we deserve more consideration than we’ve been given by the proposed bypass route.”
Olson and her family live on 24th Avenue Southwest, commonly known as the “substation road” which runs east to west just south of Watford City. If the proposed route were to become a reality, it could sit about 100 feet from her family’s home. Brew lives along the same street and has been there for the past 31 years.
Olson and Brew, along with their neighbors, see such a route as being detrimental to their quality of life. Their concerns include the affects of accidents on personal and property safety, air quality, property values, residents, buses, and emergency vehicle access to homes, and a number of environmental impacts.
Upon learning of the proposed route, Olson, Brew and their neighbors were very quick to contact the mayor and the city and county governing bodies to make their opposition known.
They were informed by each of the offices that the route given to the NDDOT was just a line on the map to get the process started for the reliever route.
Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor, was quoted as saying, “This is what the state told us to do. We aren’t traffic engineers. What we’ve come up with is just a generic corridor for the truck reliever route so we can get the NDDOT started on studying different options.”
Many feel, however, that the proposition sent to the state does not explicitly state that the proposed route is just a generic line and that an in-depth study should define an alternate route.
The letter sent to the state reads that the conceptual route “would generally route truck traffic on U.S. 85 southwest of the city and truck traffic on N.D. 23/N.D. 1806 southeast of the city.” The letter also notes that the route received “board support,” including “unanimous approval,” from both the City Council and County Commissioners, while encouraging the NDDOT “to secure the required rights-of-way as quickly as possible.”
The letter, however, does not detail the city’s unfamiliarity with the planning process or specifically mention that such a route was generic or a line on the map to begin the planning process.
Some feel that the letter gives the impression that the proposed route is what the area approves of and is prepared for, an impression vehemently opposed by those on and around the conceptual route.
Those living along the substation road have worked together to present their concerns to both the McKenzie County Commissioners and the Watford City City Council, according to Brew and Olson.
“At the county meeting, the commissioners basically supported the city in its endeavors, but felt the route would not end up directly in front of our homes,” says Brew.
Along with Brew and other neighbors, Olson was at both meetings and though she shares their concerns, she also wants to defend others from having to go through the same frustrations.
“We are not suggesting that we move it from our front yard to someone else’s,” explains Olson. “We are hoping a balanced solution can be found for the benefit of everyone.”
Justin Voll, president of the Watford City City Council, has seen and heard tremendous support for a truck reliever route, despite the objections to where the route will run.
“The overwhelming response has been very positive,” states Voll. “We know that the intersection in front of the Long X Visitor Center is not ideal and needs to be changed.”
But even with all the general support, Voll understands the concerns of the potentially affected local residents, both agriculturally and residentially.
Voll strongly believes, however,  that in formulating the route, the city, county, state and local landowners, can find common ground.
“Landowners have the biggest say,” states Voll. “Ultimately, it’s up to the landowners, engineers and the state on where the route will go.”
AE2S, a Grand Forks engineering firm hired by Watford City for infrastructure planning, continues to work on where the route might run. They are speaking with potentially affected landowners in an effort to stay away from those who oppose it and run through those who do not.
The city’s hope is that a compromise can be formed locally. Presenting an agreed upon route with confirmed rights-of-way to the state would speed the process along. Such a compromise could be forged at upcoming public meetings regarding the reliever route.
Within the next month public meetings will be held for directly affected landowners and adjacent landowners, as well as any interested residents.  Such an arena invites everyone to take part in the process, and hopefully, the opinions of residents like Olson and Brew can be given weight.
“What we are asking for is a thoughtful route that would not negatively affect residents of the county, but would be beneficial to the concerns of Main Street,” says Olson. “There is plenty of real estate to be considered instead of a residential