North Dakota's Highway 85 corridor is going from two lanes to four.
While the Port-to-Plains Alliance has been leading the project along its entire length, from Mexico to Canada, the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway Association has been spearheading the project locally.
"What we're doing, as far as the Williston Basin and that area, our goal is to have that entire corridor four-lane to benefit the efficiency and safety of the traveling public and efficiency of freight movement," Calvin Klewin, TREA executive director, said.
A section of Highway 85 from Watford City to Williston has already been expanded.
The next phase of the project will expand the highway from Watford City south to the Long X Bridge at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Work is currently underway at the 1959 trestle bridge.
"To date, the only funding we have is the completion of the bridge to a four-way structure," Klewin said. "That's funding we're working on."
The next priority for the TREA south of the bridge to Highway 200, south of Grassy Butte. An environmental impact study has been completed for the phase.
After, the project will focus on the 62-mile stretch to Interstate-94.
The highway expansion is a necessary, Klewin said.
"The interstate system in the United States was a huge transportation project, but you can see what it did for the United States as far as growing the economy from east to west," he said. "We are a major north-to-south corridor and recognize, along with the U.S. government and other folks, regarding trade, that Canada and Mexico are our largest trading partners."
The greatest challenge faced by the TREA is the federal funding, Klewin said.
"The federal government does not have a long-term highway bill in place," he said, "and one of the things that makes funding a challenge is the federal gas tax that supports highway infrastructure projects has not been raised since 1933, so the buying power is significantly less, now that we're in 2019."
A focus for the TREA is lobbying to secure funds for the project.
"We lobby very hard at the state and federal level continuously," Klewin said, "trying to show how important it is for our corridor and middle America to have a very efficient corridor that delivers fuels, fiber and agricultural goods to the world."
A Ports-of Plains Alliance meeting held in Williston on Oct. 15 offered updates on the effort's progress across the nation.
"It was mostly project updates," Ryan Jilek, TREA board member, said. "Texas was fairly well represented there, so there was a lot of talk of what they've got going on, especially between Texas and Oklahoma, with the oil development down there."
Jilek, executive director of Stark Development Corp. in Dickinson, called the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway project "extremely important."
"For us to have that north-south corridor through this area of the state would have huge economic benefits for us," he said. "The ability to safely commute between here and Williston is one of the biggest things. I often tell people, if you want to gauge the difference in stress levels of driving between two lanes and four lanes, they should drive back and forth between Belfield and Williston several times."