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U.S. Highway 85 leads deadly statistics

BISMARCK -- The 2014 crash report for major North Dakota highways comes as no surprise for people living in the oil patch. U.S. Highway 85 -- the main drag through the state's prolific oil production zone -- leads in all categories of fatal accid...

BISMARCK - The 2014 crash report for major North Dakota highways comes as no surprise for people living in the oil patch.

U.S. Highway 85 - the main drag through the state’s prolific oil production zone - leads in all categories of fatal accidents, injury accidents and property damage accidents.

The year-end report was prepared by the state Department of Transportation with the caveat that some incidents from the past two months of the year may not be included.

By traffic volume, portions of U.S. 85 are also the most heavily used in the state, with the exception of Interstate 94 east of Valley City and Interstate 29 from Grand Forks through Fargo.

It is a major mover of people and equipment, said Cal Klewin, director of Theodore Roosevelt Expressway, an organization aimed at improving U.S. 85 as part of a regional concept.

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Klewin said a real eye-popper was the number of oversize truck permits issued for U.S. 85, which averaged 200 a day every day last year. Those numbers were compiled by the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

“That speaks to the amount of equipment for oil and gas and construction that’s moving up and down that corridor. This isn’t grain trucks,” he said.

Klewin said the DOT has worked hard to improve U.S. 85 with a 42-mile stretch of four-lane road between Watford City and Williston and bypass truck reliever routes around Watford City and Alexander.

“Those efforts make it a lot better, but the amount of traffic and the accidents out there is troubling,” Klewin said.

Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, said he wanted to look at the crash and oversize permit numbers to keep the highway in the forefront of thinking as the legislative session moves along.

“It is better than it was, but we still have issues along there,” said Kempenich, adding that traffic volume, driving styles and speed all play a role.

He said the DOT will spend about $200 million to complete the U.S. 85 four lane and another $80 million on environmental work for the highway south of Watford City toward Belfield and to replace the Long X bridge.

Eventually, the idea is to create an oil corridor of improved highways that will box out the Oil Patch, Kempenich said.

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DOT spokeswoman Jamie Olson said the department is slowing speeds to 55 mph, installing a traffic signal, lighting and delineator reflectors on U.S. 85 where it intersects with N.D. Highway 68.

Traffic signals also will be installed on the Watford City business route and the department will continue to study that route and the highway west for more potential improvements, she said.

Olson said highway engineering can’t overcome people who don’t wear seatbelts or use alcohol, behaviors that account for many of the fatalities on U.S. 85.

Daily traffic volumes around Watford City exceed 12,000. The city also has the second highest traffic volume of any highway in North Dakota at the bypass intersection just south of Watford City, with nearly 16,000 vehicles per day. Only a point just west of Fargo on I-94 is higher, at 17,400.

 

The Bismarck Tribune is in a media partnership with Forum News Service.

 

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