WILLISTON, N.D.-The new $80 million Lewis and Clark Bridge, the single largest infrastructure project bid in North Dakota Department of Transportation history, opened to traffic on Thursday.

The bridge is on U.S. Highway 85 south of Williston and crosses the Missouri River.

"Opening of the Lewis and Clark Bridge marks a major milestone in the history of North Dakota's transportation system," Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford said. "This bridge is a big part of the state's investment in western North Dakota to provide essential transportation for the safety of the traveling public and for the state's economy."

The bridge is part of the U.S. Highway 85 four-lane expansion, which included more than $340 million of state money invested into the bridge, two bypasses and 60 miles of highway from Watford City to Williston.

"U.S. Highway 85 is an essential highway in western North Dakota for the energy industry," says Tom Sorel, director of the NDDOT. "This bridge is a major thoroughfare for traffic with approximately 10,000 vehicles a day utilizing the Lewis and Clark Bridge."

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The $80 million included construction, engineering and design of a new four-lane bridge, which replaces the former two-lane bridge originally built in 1973. Other parts of the project include bridge lighting, rebuilding the roadway leading up to the bridge and the construction of a wildlife crossing for moose located south of the bridge. This kind of wildlife crossing is a first for North Dakota.

The steel girder bridge will have four, 12-foot driving lanes with a median in the center. The new bridge will accommodate larger, wider truck loads than was previously capable on the old bridge. Johnson Bros. Construction located in Texas was the prime contractor for the project.

Currently, the bridge is open to two lanes of traffic. Contractors will work for the next year to dismantle and remove the old bridge. Motorists will see final construction elements of the project taking places as contractors continue to work on final phases of the project. The Lewis and Clark Bridge will be fully open to four lanes of traffic once all work is complete.