Cal Klewin: Help N.D. four-lane U.S. Highway 85The Theodore Roosevelt Expressway, U.S. Highway 85, is the major corridor serving the Bakken region and connects North Dakota with major markets for its goods, resources and labor force.
By: Cal Klewin, Grand Forks Herald
BOWMAN, N.D. — The Theodore Roosevelt Expressway, U.S. Highway 85, is the major corridor serving the Bakken region and connects North Dakota with major markets for its goods, resources and labor force.
U.S. 85 begins in Rapid City, S.D., and flows north through the cities of Spearfish and Belle Fourche; through North Dakota communities including Bowman, Belfield, Watford City and Williston; into Montana including Culbertson, and Plentywood; and finally through the Port of Raymond into Canada.
As part of the Ports-to-Plains Corridor, it also connects to markets south to Texas and Mexico.
Almost $3.3 billion of North Dakota goods are projected to be exported domestically by truck to the 10-state Ports-to-Plains region by 2015, an increase of 217 percent since 2002.
Long before the oil and gas play, U.S. 85 was looked upon in as a link to economic development opportunities for rural western North Dakota. North-south travelers use the highway to reach destinations such as Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, the Black Hills in South Dakota or other destinations to the south or north.
Many of the communities relied on U.S. 85 to bring customers to their door.
Today, it’s not easy to listen to travelers say “I do not use that road anymore if I can help it.” What effect will that have on these local small business? On the safety of travelers? On the development of the Bakken resources? On North Dakota’s economy?
The North Dakota Legislature recognized that the answer to these questions depends upon the expansion of the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway in North Dakota and significantly increased transportation funding in its biennial budget for 2013-2014. The additional funding comes from revenue collected from the oil and gas companies developing North Dakota’s energy resources.
The expansion to a four-lane U.S. Highway 85 needs to move as quickly as possible through the North Dakota Department of Transportation.
The environmental process is underway on the expansion between Williston and Watford City, N.D. We hope that construction will begin next year, and we urge the state to initiate the environmental process on U.S. 85 south of Watford City.
But there is a problem: U.S. 85 skirts the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt Park. An expanded U.S. 85 would affect less than two miles skirting the north unit.
The environmental process should address alternatives and help the Department of Transportation find the preferred alternative for addressing the potential impacts.
The current status of U.S. 85 from Watford City to Belfield is creating a dangerous situation for visitors to western North Dakota, especially those visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park and other publicly available lands.
But the National Park Service and an additional conservation group have chosen to pre-empt the environmental process by sending a letter to the state opposing the expansion.
As a result, it appears that moving into the environmental review has been halted by the North Dakota Department of Transportation.
The Theodore Roosevelt Expressway Association, the communities and small businesses along U.S. Highway 85, are urging the state to fast-track the environmental process.
The National Park Service will have a rightful seat at the table, along with other conservation groups. In the environmental process, all parties will have a seat at the table to find the best alternative to protect both public safety and the northern unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
The Theodore Roosevelt Expressway Association does not want to see the north unit become a congested choke point that could create both significant safety and environmental impacts.
In other parts of the country, the Park Service and highway engineers have resolved similar problems, and the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway believes the same to be possible here.
Officials, engineers and interested members of the public need to push to resolve a multitude of small and large conflicts before work can begin expanding U.S. Highway 85.
Fatalities, casualties, the economy, the labor force, markets for North Dakota goods and small businesses are all affected by this process.
The Theodore Roosevelt Expressway Association is an association of local government and business interests in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. For more information, visit trexpressway. com.
The association is a partner organization with the Ports-to-Plains Alliance, portstoplains.com.
Klewin is executive director of the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway Association. This letter also was signed by seven other representatives of the association.