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Study aims to identify Highway 83 bypass at Bismarck

Bea Streifel, right, speaks at a meeting of residents concerned about a Highway 83 realignment Thursday night, Aug. 16, conducted by Burleigh County Commissioners Jerry Woodcox and Doug Schonert. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — Several property owners living along proposed routes for a north Bismarck bypass of U.S. Highway 83 are raising opposition to the project.

Traffic volumes, travel time and crashes are projected to increase along the U.S. Highway 83 corridor over the next 20 years, according to a study being conducted by the Bismarck-Mandan Metropolitan Planning Organization.

In an effort to alleviate these potential traffic woes, the U.S. Highway 83 Alternative Study is evaluating alternative routes for the north-south highway in an area stretching from Bismarck north to Wilton, and as far east as Wing and Sterling.

But a number of landowners claim they were left in the dark when it comes to the study.

The MPO hosted an open house in February, and again in July, to provide information on the ongoing study, which is slated for completion in November. Members of the public were given opportunities to provide feedback. A third, and final, open house is planned for October.

At the July open house, SRF Consulting Group listed several potential Highway 83 alternatives, including the existing east-west gravel road, 110th Avenue NE, branching south at 93rd Street NE. Other proposed routes include 84th Avenue NE and 106th Street NE.

'In the dark'

But the landowners say they first found out about it July 19 — two days after the second open house.

"We, as taxpayers, paid $285,000 to have this study done," said Bea Streifel, who has lived near 110th Avenue NE for 15 years. "If they would've taken $500 and sent a postcard to each person who was going to be personally impacted, it would've been a very tiny minuscule piece of their money ... and we would've been able to have a say, but now two of three meetings have already been held."

Streifel says one of the proposed alternative routes, represented by a red line on the study's drawings, would split her land in two.

"There's a red line drawn all the way through my land, which would split my land — I have 40 acres — unevenly, and it's drawn right across my driveway, which would mean I lose my house because it's a four-lane highway," she said. "To say I was shocked to see a red line drawn through my driveway is an understatement."

Melissa Miller, who has owned property along 110th Avenue NE for 17 years, said she, as well as her neighbors, was not made aware of the study.

"We have not had an opportunity to have any input. It's disheartening because we are the individuals who will be impacted the most," she said, noting her property would be negatively impacted by two of the proposed bypass routes. "Our home is going to be too close to the (proposed) highway. I don't believe it would be able to stay there."

Pam Schonert, whose farm land would be divided in two by one of the proposed routes, said there is already an alternate route to bypass State Street — Highway 36 from Wilton to Wing, and Highway 14 from Wing to Sterling. Trucks already use 71st Avenue NE to bypass Bismarck, she added.

"I like my land a lot," Schonert said.

Prior to the MPO's February and July open houses, a display advertisement ran in the Bismarck Tribune, listing details about the meeting, such as time and location. The ad also outlined the purpose of the study and stated, "Your input is needed." A story written from a press release also was published in the Tribune Feb. 14, ahead of the first meeting.

Planning for the future

The four roads forming the boundaries of the 500-square-mile study area are Highway 83, N.D. Highway 36, N.D. Highway 14 and Interstate 94.

"It's a pretty large study area," said Craig Vaughn, the study's project manager with SRF Consulting Group. "The idea, here, is to see how much traffic or additional traffic volume would move off of the existing State Street corridor if you provided an alternative U.S. Highway 83 alignment."

The study, which is being conducted in cooperation with Bismarck, Burleigh County and the North Dakota Department of Transportation, suggests that average daily traffic volumes along Highway 83 could range from 28,000 to 63,000 vehicles per day by the year 2040, compared to the current 10,000 to 43,000.

Travel times currently range from five to eight minutes along the corridor, compared to 2040's projected eight to 20 minutes, and crashes are expected to increase by approximately 70 percent by 2040, according to the study.

Bismarck Mayor Steve Bakken said he feels the bypass is not needed now, but will be needed in the future, and now is the time to start planning.

"Is it needed at this moment? No. Is it needed in the future? Yes," he said. "A study now ... what it does is puts us in a position to get easements."

The best solution, according to Bakken, is to use existing roads to create the alternative route.

"I can't stress enough, where we can use current routes and current infrastructure ... that would be my preference," he said.

Miller also said she feels existing infrastructure should be used, referencing Gov. Doug Burgum's Main Street Initiative, which lists "smart, efficient infrastructure" as one of the three pillars of economic success.

"Part of that is using existing infrastructure, rather than creating new. It makes no sense when there are existing roads that could be used for this type of traffic," she said.

Making voices heard

Streifel and Miller recently created a Facebook page, "People Against Hwy 83 Alignment," to create awareness of the study and rally support for the MPO's October open house. The group also hosted a neighborhood meeting Thursday night, which was attended by two county commissioners.

"What we want to make clear is we're not against a good Highway 83 alternative. We're for the best choice for the taxpayers and for the property owners who will be involved," Streifel said. "We're not against doing what's best for the city and the county. We're for the right choice and using existing infrastructure."

Bakken said he feels these property owners' concerns are "valid."

"Anybody who's going to be inconvenienced by a proposed bypass needs to be heard," he said. "My No. 1 concern is what's fair and equitable to the property owners. If it cuts through somebody's house, I'm not a fan of that."

"We are being mindful of land use and access," said Matt Pacyna, the study's deputy project manager with SRF Consulting Group. "There's existing and future plans for how the area and land is guided in the area, so we want to take that into account."

The total cost of the study, which was authorized in February 2017, is $285,000, with the cost share as follows: $228,000 - federal, $28,500 — NDDOT and $14,250 (each) - Bismarck and Burleigh County.

Currently, there is no funding for the construction of an alternative Highway 83. Once completed, the study will be used by Bismarck, Burleigh County and the NDDOT to help plan for future area transportation improvements.

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