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Bypasses to Change Traffic Patterns "Overnight" in ND Oil Patch
Post Date: Oct 31 2014

By Prairie Business
Governor Jack Dalrymple joined with state and local officials Tuesday to christen three truck bypasses in western North Dakota, paving the way for once-quiet communities to regain some semblance of normalcy amid the region’s energy boom.

“So here we are today in a place where 12,830 vehicles go by each and every day, about 5,000 of them being trucks,” Dalrymple said. “We’re in a place where the population can no longer be estimated, and we’re about to open up two critical transportation corridors that are going to change the way life feels around here overnight.”

Two Watford City bypasses will re-route truck traffic on U.S. Highway 85 and state Highway 23 around the city’s southwestern and southeastern edges to U.S. 85 south.

The other bypass in Alexander, where work started last spring, opened in September and also re-routes U.S. Highway 85 truck traffic. The final phase of that 3.7-mile bypass project included fully paved entrance roadways into Alexander at each end of the bypass.

North Dakota Department of Transportation Director Grant Levi told a packed room at a Watford City hotel that the agency he leads is “not only building roadways, we’re enhancing quality of life.”

Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford said the stories he had heard from Alexander of kids safely riding bikes to school and hearing chirping birds again, without the din of truck traffic, is something he couldn’t quite imagine.

“This is a very historic day, a very exciting day for Watford City. I still can’t imagine it’s going to be as quiet in the center of town as it’s going to be tomorrow,” he said.

Jeff Kummer , senior vice president of operations for Belfield-based MBI Energy Services, said in an interview that the opening of the bypasses will allow the company to be more cost effective.

MBI’s 715 truck drivers in the state transporting oil, water and sand used in the hydraulic fracturing process are paid by the hour, and those hours spent sitting in traffic are not helping the company financially, Kummer said.

“We are a logistics company, and bottlenecks in the transportation network area negatively impact our efficiency to move customer product,” he added.

MBI, founded in 1979, has 2,000 employees in 20 locations, but its four core spots in North Dakota generate 90 percent of the company’s revenue.

Kummer , who was born and raised in Watford City, said the opening of the bypasses is a positive step forward for the oil and gas industry as well as his hometown.

“I grew up in Watford City. It’s a huge positive. The quality of life in our little town is going to be much better,” Kummer said.

Darick Franzen , the president of the booming local Chamber of Commerce, said in a phone interview that he first came to Watford City from Illinois in January 2011, choosing to make investments in a community he was “immediately attracted” to for its small-town rural flavor.

“I don’t think anybody had a good idea what was coming around the corner,” Franzen said. “You just don’t hear people talk about a bust anymore.”

He said all of the road construction was an “absolute nightmare,” but with the opening of the bypasses a “staggering” number of trucks will no longer travel through the city.

“The amount of traffic that’s going to be shifted onto these bypasses … is really going to transform what Watford City will look and feel like,” Franzen said.

Dalrymple noted the historic significance of Tuesday’s ribbon-cuttings for the Oil Patch while also acknowledging the historic road construction investments made by the state during the 2013-14 construction seasons, with more than $1.6 billion in bids for roadway projects alone.

Watford City’s southwest bypass is a 7.5 mile-long four-lane highway and the southeast bypass, also a four-lane highway, is 5.7 miles long, at a total cost of $131 million. The Alexander truck bypass cost $28 million.

Dalrymple said the total commitment in the current biennium to western North Dakota is $2.7 billion.

“It’s not that long ago that North Dakota’s annual general fund budget was a little over $3 billion. To put that in perspective, it’s a big investment,” Dalrymple said, praising efforts by the state’s western legislators to help the Legislature to “see this is a necessary investment.”

That $2.7 billion investment in western North Dakota is more than twice the amount from the previous biennium.

For truck bypasses alone this biennium, the state is investing $409 million. Bypass projects also are underway in Dickinson, New Town and Williston.
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