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Looking for feedback: Public meeting held in Belfield on proposed expansion of Highway 85

BELFIELD -- Teresa A. Kessel said she has to drive 12 miles on U.S. Highway 85 each day in order to get to work in Dickinson. Kessel said she's had a "close call" on the road with heavy traffic before, which was not unique to her. "We've all had ...

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Press Photo by Andrew Wernette Local residents examine maps showing the study area for a proposed expansion to a part of Highway 85 Monday evening at a scoping meeting at the Belfield City Hall.

BELFIELD - Teresa A. Kessel said she has to drive 12 miles on U.S. Highway 85 each day in order to get to work in Dickinson.
Kessel said she’s had a “close call” on the road with heavy traffic before, which was not unique to her.
“We’ve all had close calls,” she said.
Kessel said this as she gestured to people gathered in the basement of City Hall on Monday evening for a scoping meeting about a proposal to turn a 62-mile stretch of Highway 85 into four lanes.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation is in the initial stages of the proposal, which would expand the stretch of highway between Interstate 94 north of Belfield and Watford City. Many of those who attended the meeting showed support for the idea of a four-lane highway, simply for the added safety aspect.
Engineering firm KLJ has already drafted the study areas surrounding the current highway.
Matt Linneman, a spokesperson for NDDOT who led the meeting, stressed that it was only a study area that is being discussed at the moment, with no actual construction plans yet.
He said that NDDOT could and would come up with “flexible design options” for the proposed project based on concerns and comments that people raise. It was these comments, he said, that would provide the basis for moving forward with the project should it go through.
“That’s kind of our initial idea of what we want to do,” Linneman said.
A series of maps were set up to outline the study area and broke the stretch down into sections, while detailing each. The study area surrounding the highway consists of an approximately 1,000-foot corridor.
“At this point, we’re doing the environmental impact statement,” Linneman said.
As of now, he said the NDDOT is beginning the environmental study portion of the proposal. This includes doing topographic surveys, cultural resource inventories, botanical surveys and endangered species habitat studies.
Linneman said geotechnical work also still needed to be done of the soil in the study area to determine its suitability for supporting a wider highway.
“We need to know and be able to characterize what’s out there,” he said.
Billings County resident James Odermann asked if any total cost of the project had been estimated yet. Linneman said that would come after the environmental impact statement was complete and a construction study was undertaken.
Jennifer Turnbow of KLJ spoke about the process of putting together an environmental impact statement, which she said included the input of multiple entities.
These included national agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service, foremost being those from Theodore Roosevelt National Park as a short section of the highway cuts through the edge of the park’s North Unit There’s also involvement from the U.S. Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Turnbow said local entities, such as city and county governments that would be affected by the project, would also be in on the discussions.
Laura Anhalt came from Bismarck to attend the meeting. She said she travels to and camps in Theodore Roosevelt National Park frequently, and was interested in how an expansion to the highway would affect conditions there.
“I am concerned about my personal visitor experience in the national park,” she said.
Anhalt’s main concern was about the noise that could potentially cause disruption
“I would like you to be very, very careful about that,” she said.
One of the most visible effects of the project, said Linneman and Turnbow, would be that the Long X Bridge that crosses the Little Missouri River inside the park about 15 miles south of Watford City would likely have to either be enhanced or replaced, affecting its historical significance.
Due to the traffic that crosses it, Linneman said the bridge in its current state causes problems.
“Oversize loads have to take some indirection to get where they want to go,” he said.
He added that 260 oversize load permits have been denied since 2013 because of its restrictive dimensions, and there have been six major accidents since 2011 due to bridge’s height restriction. This has caused approximately 40 days of total closure, Linneman said.
Adam Wanner, who lives 10 miles north of Belfield near the highway, said he’s noticed that traffic has lessened since the oil industry’s downturn.
He asked if an expansion was even necessary at this point.
“I don’t see the need for a four-lane anymore,” he said.

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