Highway 85 Bypass Aims To Improve Quality Of Life In Oil Patch

Watford City (N.D.) Mayor Brent Sanford, left, speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the U.S. Highway 85 bypass with Gov. Jack Dalrymple, North Dakota Department of Transportation Director Grant Levi and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – The groundbreaking for a highway project here Tuesday marked a huge step toward improving the quality of life for Oil Patch residents, local leaders said.

A U.S. Highway 85 bypass will improve safety and ease congestion in Watford City, where 3,700 trucks travel on Main Street each day.

Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford called the project “monumental” and said it will address traffic safety in the community where the state’s drilling activity is most concentrated.

“I believe that our cries have been heard. I believe that the needs are being addressed,” Sanford said.

The state provided $72 million for phase one of the bypass, which includes a four-lane roadway with turning lanes and an intersection with traffic signals. The project has a west entrance 3½ miles west of Watford City on Highway 85 and then reconnects with the highway 3½ miles south of the city.

Construction begins next month with completion anticipated for the end of the 2014 construction season.

“We know that probably no single project really symbolizes the growth and the expansion of western North Dakota like this bypass right here,” said Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who joined local and state leaders for the groundbreaking ceremony.

Legislators last year approved $720 million for highway and road improvement projects, with the majority of dollars directed to oil-producing counties. The North Dakota Department of Transportation also is working on the first phase of a $300 million project to turn U.S. Highway 85 into a four-lane highway between Williston and Watford City.

“These are essential investments for the entire state of North Dakota, not just for a few counties out here,” Dalrymple said. “This is the future of our prosperity for the whole state of North Dakota. This is where our future is going to come from and we need to make these investments and support this area as they go through these incredible challenges.”

Watford City officials spent more than a year discussing bypass routes, and the one selected is the locally preferred option that had the least amount of impact on landowners, Sanford said.

A second phase of the bypass project will help alleviate truck traffic from North Dakota Highway 23, which runs east from Watford City. A bypass road would be built southeast of Watford City connecting to phase one at Highway 85 near McKenzie County Road 14.

The second phase will be bid in February 2014, with an expected completion later in the year.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner of Dickinson said the bypass and other road improvement projects will help restore life in western North Dakota.

“We want the quality of life back. We want the public safety back,” Wardner said. “These truck reliever routes are a huge step in that direction.”