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Our view: Create 4-lane Highway 85 sooner rather than later

Six years ago, the idea of making U.S. Highway 85 into a four-lane road from the Canadian border to Spearfish, S.D., was first pitched as the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway by the Port-to-Plains Alliance.

Back then, the western North Dakota oil boom was but a twinkle in the eyes of speculators and the impression was that this side of the state was withering away and we needed a shot in the arm like a four-lane highway in the west to help bolster the economy.

Today, the economy is plenty bolstered by the oil industry. But, a byproduct of that has been the overburdening of roads -- especially Highway 85 -- with increased traffic from semi trucks and oil-industry work vehicles.

There have been advancements along Highway 85, such as creating intermittent passing lanes and a future truck bypass around Watford City. Still, it does nothing to alleviate the amount of traffic on the road. It remains congested and will continue getting worse the further south the oil industry plants its stakes -- including in Slope and Bowman counties where Highway 85 is the only paved north-south route of travel.

It is time North Dakota takes a serious look at turning Highway 85 into a four-lane road.

There will be hang ups, such as widening the road through the Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit without hindering wildlife or nature.

It will no doubt be a long project, but it is a project worth taking on and completing over time with continued investments of the state's oil-generated income since federal help isn't coming anytime soon.

If nothing else, it would help decrease traffic fatalities and accidents along the road that could very well be the busiest and most dangerous in rural North Dakota.

Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford has called driving between his city and Williston along Highway 85 "like taking your life in your hands."

In March, Dickinson lost 30-year-old elementary teacher Johanna Njos after her vehicle was struck by an oncoming truck while navigating a dangerous curve on ice-covered Highway 85 west of Amidon.

It's plain to see the highway needs improvements. Every day, deep rutting in the road between Grassy Butte and Watford City gets worse, so much that vehicles lose control by doing something as simple as changing lanes or turning onto the road.

That is unacceptable of any U.S. highway, especially one that is a major artery for traffic in oil country where we must accept that some drivers just aren't going to be as cautious as others.

It is time the state takes the initiative and begins realistic discussions as to how a project of this stature could take place.

A four-lane Highway 85 would serve its further serve its original purpose of bolstering the economy and improving quality of life in western North Dakota while alleviating traffic problems caused by the oil industry.

The Dickinson Press Editorial Board consists of Publisher Harvey Brock, Managing Editor Dustin Monke and News Editor Klark Byrd.