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Expanding Highway 85: Theodore Roosevelt Expressway Association continues push for 4-lane road

Two semi trucks drive down Highway 85 inside Theodore Roosevelt National Park's North Unit on June 7.

The Theodore Roosevelt Expressway Association is continuing its goal of turning Highway 85 from a two-lane road into a four-lane all the way through North Dakota.

Cal Klewin, Theodore Roosevelt Expressway Association executive director, said there are plans for the representatives to speak to the North Dakota Department of Transportation next week about further expansion of Highway 85, focusing on the area near Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Klewin spoke during Tuesday's Stark Development Corporation's board of directors meeting at the Dickinson Chamber of Commerce.

"We will need to address issues with the park," he said. "They do not want any improvements to go through that park with a four-lane structure. We're going to try and figure out how to work through that."

He said the DOT has received two letters of concern about the expansion of Highway 85 -- including one from the park -- about moving wildlife when the highway is widened.

Other states have been faced with the same issue, Klewin said, so he believes there is a solution that will allow the association to meet its goal of expanding Highway 85.

"We're making some progress between Williston and Dickinson, and I just had an update that the rural waterline that's being served from Williston to the Watford City area has to be moved to a different area," Klewin said.

The highway, which runs from North Dakota to Texas, has been deemed ill-equipped to handle the increased traffic and commerce due to energy -- including oil, wind and natural gas -- and agricultural needs.

To improve the highway, the Ports-to-Plains Alliance, of which Klewin is a part of, recommends the Highway Trust Fund be fixed through increased overall investment, focus on upgrading the national highway system on a network basis and ensure that resources are focused on the most critical routes for energy development.

Jane Berger, programming engineer for the DOT, said at the annual Theodore Roosevelt Expressway meeting in Medora last November that a majority of North Dakota's oil wells are not directly served by a state highway.

Many of the roads in the oil-impacted areas, Berger said, are 40 to 50 years old and were not built to withstand the heavy traffic coming through western North Dakota.

And it's not just North Dakota roads that are feeling the impact.

Klewin said one of the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway Association's biggest members, the Black Hills economic development group in South Dakota, is also feeling significant impact from the North Dakota.

"I'm going to visit with their Department of Transportation next week," Klewin said. "I know they've taken a look at what's going on from Belle Fourche (S.D.) north, as far as the infrastructure and the traffic counts."

While speaking with an economic developer in Spearfish, S.D., Klewin said he was told the city has seen a significant increase in its school enrollment.

"They found out there were 60 children enrolled in their school system whose parents work in North Dakota," he said. "This thing is widespread, as far as the impacts, and that's what we've always felt about our corridor and the impacts it has with good service transportation."