Safety is main concern for 4-laning US 85
By Jack Dura
Farmer Staff Writer
A public meeting for a project to expand U.S. Highway 85 between Belfield and the Watford City Bypass drew many concerns, the largest of which was safety.
Seeking to expand the roadway to four lanes for 62 miles with multiple alternatives for locations along the route in a project priced near $1 billion, the North Dakota Department of Transportation sought public input at the meeting held Tuesday, July 26, at Watford City City Hall. Attendees voiced concerns for Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the badlands, the agriculture industry and most of all, safety, especially relating to speed and lanes.
Tracy Potter, a former state tourism official and former state senator, said expanding the highway to four lanes for the whole roadway “is just too expensive, environmentally and financially.”
Potter also said expanding the road for five miles south of the Long X Bridge would bring “extreme environmental damage.”
He added the difference between driving 50 mph for seven miles and 70 mph for seven miles is little time at all.
“I can hold my breath that long,” he said, adding he hopes NDDOT can reexamine its four-lane design.
Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford didn’t speak during the meeting, but said the next morning that a four-lane design is important.
“Four-lane all the way through seems to be paramount for safety,” he said, adding what many meeting attendees pointed out, that Highway 85’s four-lane design from Watford City to Williston has worked well and Interstate 94 connectivity is vital.
Sitting next to Potter, Laura Anhalt voiced her concern for traffic near the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, particularly since I-94 traffic near the South Unit was audible at all hours during her recent visit.
“Please consider slowing the traffic down through the park and perhaps before you get there because a faster highway is a louder highway,” she said, noting the North Unit’s peace and beauty.
“If (Theodore Roosevelt) camped there and could hear a highway, he would be very upset,” Anhalt said.
“We’re definitely trying to do the best we can to minimize our footprint, minimize our impact on the landscape,” Matt Linneman, NDDOT project manager, said in response, noting noise studies and other impact surveys ongoing as the project prepares its environmental impact statement, due in fall next year.
Rob Sand of Killdeer said safety and the national park “are primary concerns,” and the highway’s safety could be compromised with increased speeds.
Before the meeting’s presentation, McKenzie County Commissioner Vawnita Best said she understands the National Park Service’s goals of preservation and visitation can be met by expanding Highway 85.
“I actually see this more robust transportation system that meets the needs as helping them with the second portion of their mandate, a safer roadway bringing more visitors up to the North Unit,” Best said.
Other issues raised related to commerce and industry, including the $100 million agriculture industry and an oil industry that needs to maintain 9,000 wells, KLJ planner Jen Turnbow noted.
“Remember agriculture,” said rancher Gene Veeder, McKenzie County’s economic development director, adding he recently hauled a 16-foot implement from Killdeer to his ranch.
“It changes what happens to people who want to buy equipment and move equipment,” he said of the expansion project, noting how road closures and wrecks can leave an economic impact too.
Linneman and project planners also addressed the proposed multi-purpose trail extending from Watford City to the North Unit, open to non-motorized traffic. Linneman presented two trail concepts, including fill and cut sections for the 11-foot trail’s inslope.
Other portions of Highway 85’s alternative designs included the Long X Bridge, with three alternatives proposed, including replacement and four or two lane options. Such projects could cost up to $60 million, Linneman noted.
The Highway 200 turn for Killdeer could see a standard intersection, J-turn or multilane roundabout, Linneman said, while Fairfield could be circled by two bypasses on its east and west sides.
While other attendees remarked on possible noise and hazards of multiple lanes, Linneman responded that “serenity is important” and now is the time to voice these concerns as the project inches forward.
“A lot of people have different wishes,” Sand said.
NDDOT is accepting written comments by mail, email or its website until Aug. 26.