Watford City bypasses finally open
By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer
It was almost eerie in Watford City last Tuesday evening. Almost by magic, nearly a third of the more than 12,000 vehicles per day that had been congesting the junction of U.S. Highway 85 and N.D. 23, was gone. Gone too, were traffic jams and long lines of vehicles that Watford City residents had become accustomed to enduring.
But magic had nothing to do with the vanishing traffic. Instead, it had everything to do with the opening of the two long-awaited bypasses around Watford City. And when those two new routes officially opened last Tuesday, city officials and residents were thrilled to see some degree of normalcy, when it comes to traffic congestion, return to this rapidly growing community.
“It feels like we have our town back,” said Sanford. “For those of us driving within the inner-circle of Watford City, it is so nice not having this train of tankers and white pick-up trucks. I can’t express how that feels.”
Even North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple had experienced Watford City’s daunting traffic issues first-hand and knew something had to be done.
“I remember it was Spring and we had just broke ground on these bypasses,” remembered Dalrymple. “We were coming from the airport and got stuck in some traffic. So, we turned around and tried a different route and got stuck in some more traffic. Then I said to myself, we really need a bypass here!”
The crowd laughed at his story, as excitement and anticipation filled the room. Tuesday, Oct. 28, Dalrymple was joined by North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) Director Grant Levi, Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford, and other state and local officials to celebrate the completion of three highway bypass projects in Watford City and Alexander, and the second phase of the U.S. 85 four-lane project between Watford City and Williston.
“I want to thank the governor for this historic funding,” said Sanford. “I want to thank the Legislature and I want to thank all of the local leadership. This is a very historic day, a very exciting day for us here in Watford City.”
The state has provided approximately $200 million to construct the U.S. 85 project to significantly enhance traffic flow and roadway safety in western North Dakota, and the bypasses to reduce truck traffic in the communities of Watford City and Alexander.
“We are committed to continuing to address the impacts of rapid growth in western North Dakota. And a key part of those efforts is to ensure that the region’s roadways are safe and the truck traffic on its main streets is reduced,” said Dalrymple. “These bypass and four-lane projects represent significant investments in the region’s infrastructure and will bring much-needed traffic relief to these communities.”
According to Dalrymple. there are about 12,830 vehicles that pass through Watford City and the surrounding communities every day, of which about 5,000 are trucks. Watford City’s Southwest Bypass cost about $81 million and is 7.5 miles long, while the Southeast Bypass cost about $50 million and is 5.7 miles long. Both new bypasses provide for four-lane traffic.
“We have a team of engineers who allowed us to turn a project around in a very short amount of time,” said Levi. “And with that, today is possible. Today, we’ll have bypasses taking the trucks out of the community.”
The 2013 and 2014 construction seasons represent the largest road construction programs in state history, with more than $1.6 billion in bids for roadway projects alone. The state is investing $409 million to cover all the costs for the construction of the truck bypass routes in western North Dakota. In addition to Watford City and Alexander, bypass projects are underway in Dickinson, New Town and Williston.
“I want to give the Legislature full credit for this,” said Dalrymple. “They made a huge commitment to western North Dakota. The state, as a whole, recognizes that you have a very unique thing taking place here in Watford City.”
“I want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts with what is happening out here,” said Ron Anderson, McKenzie County Commissioners chairman. “Thank you so much.”
In all, the state will invest $2.7 billion to support the state’s oil and gas region during the current biennium. The state commitment - more than twice the amount of the previous, two-year funding package - includes funding for highway, county and township road improvements, water supply and water treatment projects and the development of affordable housing.
“We’re not only building roadways, but enhancing the quality of life,” said Levi. “And that’s really what we’re about.”
According to Levi, one can drive from Watford City to County Road 16 on a brand new four-lane highway. The NDDOT is hopeful to have the next phase, which includes the portion of U.S. 85 from County Road 16 to U.S. 2 completed by the end of next year, with the new Lewis & Clark Bridge project slated for completion the following year.