After $500 million and 18 years, Devils Lake road-raising nearly doneIt’s becoming easier to navigate roads through the flooded Devils Lake Basin these days. It’s a sign that 18 years and more than $500 million worth of road construction to keep ahead of a record flood is paying off.
By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald
DEVILS LAKE — It’s becoming easier to navigate roads through the flooded Devils Lake Basin these days: fewer detours; fewer slow-moving trips behind pilot cars; fewer gravel- and rock-filled trucks on the road; and fewer trips to the car wash or wheel alignment shop.
It’s a sign that 18 years and more than $500 million worth of road construction — including $442 million in state and federal funds and about $94 million in local funds — to keep ahead of a record flood is paying off.
“It’s been a stressful time, not just for us, but for the public. It’s nice to see these projects being finished,” said Wayde Swenson, Devils Lake district engineer with the North Dakota Transportation Department.
Several state highways in the region have been raised four or five times since 1994, as Devils Lake kept rising. The lake rose about 32 feet between 1992 and 2011, when it peaked at a record elevation of 1,454.4 feet above sea level. It also quadrupled in size during that time, swallowing county and township roads along the way.
Approximately $187 million has been spent on projects in the past two years, according to Swenson.
Virtually all state and federal highways in the Devils Lake Basin have been or are being raised to elevations of 1,465 feet, 7 feet above the 1,458-foot level at which the lake begins to spill naturally to the Sheyenne River.
The lake level has dropped about 3 feet since its 2011 record elevation, the result of a relatively dry year and the operation of two state-owned outlets to the Sheyenne River.
Swenson said crews had planned to complete final paving on Highway 57/20 this fall. However, early autumn rain, followed by 8 to 9 inches of snow later in the fall, delayed the progress.
He said the final paving project will be bid this winter, and the paving should be completed in a three- to four-week period in spring.
Then, major flood-related road construction in the Devils Lake Basin will be complete, he said.
However, if the lake rises again to the 2011 peak elevation, road builders likely will fortify several spots along U.S. Highway 2.
Meanwhile, several road-raising projects on Bureau of Indian Affairs roads also are nearing completion on Spirit Lake Indian Reservation. Road crews are raising BIA Roads 4 and 5, as well as perimeter dam roads to an elevation of 1,460 feet, according to Clarence Greene, tribal road superintendent. The projects should be completed in the spring.
The tribal projects began in 2006. Greene said tribal officials are hoping to obtain additional federal funding to raise the roads another 5 feet, to match the state highways.
“It’s been a long haul,” he said. “We hope we can sustain what we have until we can raise them to 1,465. The lake’s gone down. But we all know that can turn around in a hurry.”
Call Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1110; or send email to email@example.com.