WILLISTON, N.D. – Truck traffic kept interrupting a press conference here Monday that marked the opening of a new truck bypass, and that couldn’t have made Williston Mayor Ward Koeser any happier.
Each truck that takes the new 16-mile route that officially opened Monday is one less truck that will travel through Williston, where traffic counts exceed 28,000 vehicles a day compared to the 4,000 vehicles that traveled there four years ago.
“Every time a truck goes by here, I internally smile,” Koeser said during the event along the new truck route.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation widened and paved Williams County roads 1 and 6 to connect to U.S. Highway 2 north and west of Williston to create a temporary west bypass. The goal of the project is to relieve traffic in the city while officials develop a permanent bypass.
Francis Ziegler, director of the North Dakota Department of Transportation, estimates that about 60 percent to 70 percent of the more than 11,000 trucks that travel through Williston daily will use the temporary bypass. Local delivery trucks and trucks that need to access a water depot within the city limits will continue to travel in Williston, he said.
Truck drivers won’t be required to use the new route, but companies will encourage drivers to go that way, Ziegler said.
“We believe they’re going to find that using this bypass will save them time,” Ziegler said. “Time is money.”
Gov. Jack Dalrymple remarked that on the way to the event, his vehicle was able to get through the stoplight at the intersection of highways 2 and 85 on the first try.
“That’s a breakthrough,” Dalrymple said.
The $12 million project was funded with $8 million directly from the state and $4 million from Williams County funding that came from the state’s County and Township Road Reconstruction program.
Construction on a temporary east bypass, which will use county roads 9 and 6, will being this fall with completion set for the end of the year.
Officials continue to work on selecting a site for a permanent truck bypass. Possible Native American burial grounds were identified in the area of one of the preferred routes, and officials are studying that further, Ziegler said.
The goal is to complete the permanent route, a $30 million to $40 million project, by the summer of 2014, Ziegler said.
Relief for other communities is on the way. There are bypass routes being planned for Watford City, Alexander, New Town, Dickinson and Killdeer, Ziegler said.
Dalrymple also said he would like to see Highway 85 between Williston and Watford City converted to four lanes no later than 2014, which prompted Koeser and others to applaud.
Dan Kalil, chairman of the Williams County Commission, said local officials see the transportation improvements as signs of progress.
“Quality of life is what we’re trying to improve and this is a great first step,” Kalil said.