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The hills are alive with the sound of construction: Land owner voices concerns over plans for Long X bridge

The plan for widening the Long X Bridge in Watford City was presented by North Dakota Department of Transportation Project Manager Matt Linneman before the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission on Tuesday, June 5, at the Ramada in Dickinson. He...

The plan for widening the Long X Bridge in Watford City was presented by North Dakota Department of Transportation Project Manager Matt Linneman before the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission on Tuesday, June 5, at the Ramada in Dickinson. He assured members and the public the construction won't interfere with the natural flow of the river.

A rehabilitation or replacement of the historical Long X Bridge, just below the entrance of the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, has been in the works since October 2015. The option to replace the existing structure with a four-lane modern highway-style bridge was determined the best fit after research and planning by NDDOT.

Not everyone was thrilled with the plan, however.

"What time am I going to be able to eat supper without my plates bouncing off the table?" Ken Deitz asked Linneman during the meeting.

Deitz, who owns the land directly south of the Long X bridge, voiced his concerns regarding the noise and vibrations from the construction, which is expected to begin in spring 2019.

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The bridge and the roads leading up to it are part of a 1.75 mile stretch of highway 85 designated for improvement. It is estimated the construction will cost $36 million. Funding comes from the statewide transportation improvement plan.

The widening or replacement of Long X Bridge is the first priority in a project to expand Highway 85 to a four-lane road between Interstate 94 and Watford City. But a timeline on the rest of the project can't be pinned down because no funding currently exists.

With the interests of the commission in mind, Linneman spent a large portion of his presentation talking about how the construction would temporarily and permanently affect the flow of the river, highlighting cofferdams as an option to access the river bed without fully stopping the flow. Post-construction, he said, there will be no noticeable change in the stage or depth of the river.

"There will be really no effect to the flow even though there's more piers in the water (on the new bridge compared to the existing)," Linneman said. "There will be no increase or hundredths of a foot."

Construction of the five section, 85-foot wide structure could potentially take two years, Linneman said, including drilling the pier foundations into the hillside and riverbed, which will be stopped at 7 p.m. every night while other work ceases at 10 p.m.

With the new bridge planned just to the east of the existing bridge, the curve of the road leading up to the bridge on either bank will be adjusted, cutting into the surrounding landscape.

With Deitz's concern noted, a commission member asked why the new bridge was chosen to be built on the east side of the existing bridge, rather than the west.

"We looked at both sides," Linneman said. "With the badlands and the stability of the ground, instrumentation showed more movement (on the west side)."

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Deitz is unhappy about losing a part of his property in the reworking of the road, which will expose a view of traffic from his home.

"The view is my biggest concern," Deitz said at the conclusion of the meeting. "I'm also losing the whole hillside that blocks out the highway. They're going to do a three-to-one slope, which is what's proposed right now and move back into my property, so my whole hill is going to be gone so I'm basically going to be looking at traffic driving by my house."

Linneman and NDDOT are working with Deitz on the project, and at the conclusion of the public comment period running through June 25, potentially will revise details of the plan.

Long X also qualifies as a historical bridge, so sections or the full structure is up for 'adoption.' The environmental impact report and plan detail scan be found at the project website, ( www.dot.nd.gov/projects/williston/US85I94/ ) where comments and requests for adoption can also be made.

"After we get all the public comments, we have to take all the comments, consider them, make modifications to the documents and then we'll produce a final environmental impact statement," Linneman said. "That'll go through a review process. (The) Federal Highway (Administration) will make an ultimate decision on whether they approve it."

While the commission itself hardly commented on the bridge and how it would interfere with preservation of the Little Missouri River's natural condition, members did discuss a commission process recommendation. The process recommendation, written by Director of North Dakota Parks & Recreation, Melissa Baker, went into detail on the roles of commission officers, when meeting minutes and votes would be online, as well as disclosing potential conflicts of interest. Members carried motions to approve all but two subsections of the recommendation regarding when and how minutes will be approved.

An official process of the commission will prevent the group from going 10 years without a meeting, as they did between August 2007 and October 2017.

The members also carried a motion to hold annual meetings on the second Tuesday of September, starting with Sept. 11, 2018, with a location to be determined by the chairman.

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