Posted 2/24/15 (Tue)
By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer
McKenzie County once again has the dubious distinction of having the deadliest highway in North Dakota. With 24 fatalities on U.S. Highway 85 and other county roadways, the number of deaths, accidents, and property damage in 2014 has county officials concerned.
“It’s very troubling,” says Ron Anderson, McKenzie County Board of Commissioners chairman. “That’s why we have to get that northern route completed to get the traffic spread out. The only way we’ll ever be able to combat this problem is to spread the traffic out. We plan on doing half of the northern route in 2015 with money from the Surge funding. But we’re hoping that we can get money from the formula switch to be able to finish that route in 2016. Completing even half of that route would help a lot.”
U.S. Highway 85 in McKenzie County leads in all traffic accident categories including injury traffic crashes, fatal traffic crashes, injured persons, and fatalities. According to the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT), the crash data was prepared on Jan. 28, 2015, so it is possible crashes that occurred in November and December may not have been entered into their database.
According to the year-end report in McKenzie County, there were 526 property damage only traffic crashes, 246 injury traffic crashes, 21 fatal traffic crashes, 360 injured persons, and 24 fatalities. And specifically for U.S. Highway 85, there were 11 fatalities, 188 injuries, and 526 property damage only traffic crashes. These are staggering numbers for any county or major highway.
In regards to traffic volume, portions of U.S. Highway 85 in McKenzie County are also some of the most heavily used in the state of North Dakota. The only exceptions are Interstate 94, east of Valley City, and Interstate 29, from Grand Forks through Fargo. And according to the North Dakota Highway Patrol, the number of oversize truck permits issued for U.S. Highway 85 averaged 200 a day for every day in 2014.
“Again, the only way to combat the traffic volume on U.S. Highway 85 is to get better highways, fix N.D. 23, and to spread the traffic out with the completion of the northern route,” says Anderson. “And we need to get those traffic lights up at the intersection of Highways 68 and 85. Once we can get that lit up, I think it will help a lot. That’s our worst corner.”
For the amount of traffic moving up and down the entire U.S. Highway 85 corridor, it is the hope of McKenzie County officials that legislation will change the formula so that the county can get more money back from the Gross Production Taxes, which would be a huge step forward in getting the roads fixed up in this area.
According to Representative Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, he wants to look at the crash and oversize permit numbers to keep the highway in the forefront of thinking as the legislative session moves along.
“The DOT has been working very well in trying to identify the problems and coming up with solutions,” said Anderson. “And installing the lighting and traffic signals has been a part of that.”
According to the NDDOT, the department is slowing speeds down to 55 miles per hour, installing a traffic signal, lighting and delineator reflectors on U.S. Highway 85 where it intersects with N.D. Highway 68. They will also be installing traffic signals on the Watford City Business Route. And they will continue to conduct studies for more potential improvements.
Currently, Watford City has the second highest traffic volume statistic in the state, which exceeds 12,000 vehicles a day. At the bypass intersection, south of Watford City, nearly 16,000 vehicles pass through every day. Only one other location, west of Fargo on Interstate 94, is higher at 17,400 vehicles per day.