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Public gives input on I-94 bridge project

SOUTH HEART -- A planned project to replace the interchange bridge above Interstate 94 north of South Heart has the city's fire chief worried that it could compromise response time.

During a North Dakota Department of Transportation public input meeting at the South Heart school Monday, fire chief Steve Kuntz questioned whether the construction project would elongate fire response time from his department, which goes about 20 miles north of the South Heart exit, Kuntz said.

"It's a huge concern for me," Kuntz said. "If we have a fire up north, a detour would add at least 10 minutes to our response time, which is a lot of time for a fire."

A handful of people at Monday's meeting voice concerns about the ripple effects of the approximately $3.4 million project -- which would be paid for with mostly federal and some state funds -- but most seemed to agree that a new interchange is needed.

"This structure has been up since 1964," said Bill Kuhlmann of the NDDOT Bridge Division. "The existing clear roadway has a width of 24 feet, which is not adequate based on our future projected needs with the continued development of South Heart."

Kuhlmann said the deck of the existing interchange is in "very poor condition" and pointed to water cracking in the structure's concrete makeup and damage to its beams from "repeated vehicle collisions" as the other main concerns with the existing bridge. Kuhlmann said that rehabilitating the bridge would likely not be feasible.

Bids are scheduled to open for the project -- which is likely to take four to six months of construction -- in March. NDDOT Dickinson District engineer Larry Gangl said the earliest start date for construction would be May 1.

Traffic that would normally use the interchange to enter onto or exit the freeway would be temporarily rerouted on a series of pathways between Belfield and Dickinson, mainly along Highway 10 south of the interstate and along a series of rural roads, including 34th St. SW and 121st Ave. SW, north of the freeway.

During construction, Kuhlmann said travelers on the interstate would not be affected, except for possible temporary diversions up and down the exit ramps, which will remain open during construction. Kuhlmann said the project is now in the design phase.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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