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14 miles of 4-lane to open on Hwy. 85

ALEXANDER — The first phase of the U.S. Highway 85 four-lane project in western North Dakota will officially open Friday, marking an important step in managing the onslaught of truck traffic in the state’s Oil Patch.

Patriot Fuels co-owner Fred Huckstorf said he couldn’t be happier with the widening of a 14-mile segment from Watford City to south of Alexander in McKenzie County.

As oil industry and overall traffic has increased, McKenzie County saw its number of fatal crashes nearly double from 2011 to 2013, according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

“I think it’s great, obviously needed. The road will be safer, business will be better. I’m happy for the state,” Huckstorf said.

Patriot Fuels near Alexander is one of the few fuel stops along the busy artery where thousands of vehicles travel each day between Williston and Watford City. Huckstorf said his business sees about 6,000 monthly transactions.

He said his property served as a staging area for the contractor, Minnesota-based Central Specialties, Bismarck-based consultant KLJ and the state. Seventy campers for workers were also parked at the site starting in the spring through the summer.

Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jamie Olson said many improvements to about 33 miles of U.S. Highway 85 should be ready this year. Plans include adding lanes and a 20-foot median, to create a four-lane highway from Watford City to Williston, she said.

“These four lanes will allow more free-flowing traffic with the addition of turn lanes to the roadway,” said Olson. “Upon completion, four lanes of roadway will be open to motorists along U.S. 85 between Watford City and the junction of U.S. 2 near Williston.”

The Department of Transportation estimates that 14,000 vehicles travel through Watford City each day.

Olson said the necessary environmental clearance has been received for construction of U.S. Highway 85 from north of Alexander to Williston, which includes the replacement of the existing Lewis and Clark bridge over the Missouri River near Williston. The project will continue into the 2015 construction season.

The cost of the highway widening and bridge replacement is about $300 million.

North Dakota Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley, Department of Transportation Director Grant Levi and local officials will be on hand to celebrate the opening of the four-lane road Friday.