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Push on for Little Missouri River crossing

Billings County commissioners are inching closer to constructing a Little Missouri River crossing that would connect Highway 85 to Highway 16. Public workshops to discuss the project, which has been more than 20 years in the making, are scheduled this week.

"It's going to cut a lot of traffic off our main arteries like the interstate because you've got to use that to get around on the other side of the river," Commissioner Mike Kasian said. "It's going to be a lot shorter distance for equipment and truckers to travel to get our oil to market."

The only reliable river crossings in Billings County are on Interstate 94 at Medora. The next crossing is Long X Bridge, which is just south of Watford City. An environmental impact study is being conducted on the area between those bridges and the highways the project would connect.

Commissioner Jim Arthaud estimated construction on the bridge alone would be about $15 million, which would primarily be funded by Billings County.

"The money that our county's stuck into this EIS process over the years is millions of dollars," he said. "We have to study the river from Medora all the way to where the Long X Bridge is, north of Grassy Butte to see where the proper spot is. Do you think Billings County wants a bridge in McKenzie County? They want one in Billings County. That's how ridiculous the process is."

Despite his frustration, Arthaud said it's a needed project and construction may begin in three years.

"Everybody talks about truck traffic and dust and beating up roads and stuff and we drive 100 miles around instead of going one mile across," he said.

For Pat Rummel, Billings County emergency manager and chief deputy, the project can't come soon enough.

"If we're up north of Belfield and we get a call on the west side of the river, we have to come all the way down to the interstate and go over to West River Road and up that way," Rummel said. "You're talking anywhere from 50 to 80 miles."

There are times when the sheriff's department has one person on duty, so it could take up to two hours for officers to respond to an incident in some cases, he added.

"I know there's been times where we were up north and had to come all the way through Medora and back up the other side for accidents, but nothing that has been life threatening," he said. "We're just lucky nobody was seriously injured."

Some farmers and ranchers maintain private low water gravel crossings they allow emergency vehicles during dry seasons, but they're unreliable, Rummel said.

"That's kind of a hit-and-miss type of a deal," he said. "If a crossing gets washed out and we get somebody stuck in there, that's not good either."

Arthaud said the bridge will likely connect to existing gravel roads on each side of the river.

Alternatives Public Workshops is 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in Medora, which is at 250 Main St., and Tuesday at the Kelly Inn, Bismarck, according to a press release from Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson, which is managing the project. A formal presentation will begin at 5:30 p.m.

Representatives will answer questions and discuss concerns, according to the release.

Written statements or comments may also be mailed by June 22 to Jennifer Turnbow, project manager, Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson, Inc. 128 Soo Line Dr. Bismarck, ND 58501.

Several attempts to obtain comment from KL&J were unsuccessful.