OUR OPINION: Four lanes, at last, to Williston
What makes Grand Forks, Grand Forks? UND, of course, and the city's location on historic river and rail lines. But those elements all date back almost to the city's founding. What modern features keep the city vibrant and growing, given its dista...
What makes Grand Forks, Grand Forks?
UND, of course, and the city's location on historic river and rail lines.
But those elements all date back almost to the city's founding. What modern features keep the city vibrant and growing, given its distance from major markets and comparative isolation?
The best answers to that question probably are Interstate 29 and U.S. Highway 2. The decades-old choice to route a north-south interstate through Grand Forks has to rank even above construction of Grand Forks Air Force Base in impact.
And as for U.S. Highway 2, it doesn't have quite the cachet of an interstate highway (and for evidence, see the role of Interstate 94 in Fargo). But it's still plenty important, doubly or triply so because of its four lanes and comparatively high speeds.
In short, the presence of four-lane highways leading to both Grand Forks and Fargo simply are invaluable in terms of those cities' economic development.
That's how important a four-lane U.S. Highway 2 is to western North Dakota as well. That's also why North Dakotans in the Red River Valley should celebrate last week's opening of the long-awaited four-lane segment between Minot and Williston, N.D.
"We know that investing in infrastructure is one of the best ways to support economic growth," Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said at the ribbon-cutting.
"It creates jobs and expands economic opportunities. And with the oil boom, there is no doubt that this highway expansion could not have come at a better time to foster this incredible development."
The segment's opening completes U.S. Highway 2 almost all the way across the top of North Dakota, from Grand Forks all the way to Williston. That's a huge accomplishment and one that will pay dividends to the state for many decades into this century.
Congratulations to the state's congressional delegation, whose work on Capitol Hill led the federal government to pay 80 percent of the state's $100 million cost. And congratulations as well to Gov. John Hoeven and the North Dakota Legislature for seeing fit to fund the remaining $24 million, or 20 percent.
That's a big sum for a small state. The lawmakers deserve the state's thanks for deciding to spend the money and get the job done.
Those things didn't have to happen, and Herald readers need only look to our U.S. Highway 2 neighbors to the east and west to see alternative scenarios at work.
In Montana, the "Four for Two" campaign has been pushing for years to widen U.S. Highway 2 across the top of that state. But of the highway's 666 miles across the state, only 40 are four lanes. And so far, the Montana Legislature has been daunted by the sheer scope of the task.
August, though, brought some good news: A federal environmental impact study OK'd a project to four-lane the highway's easternmost 22 miles, which link Culbertson, Mont., with the North Dakota border. That just a first step -- but it's a hugely important one, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said.
As for Minnesota, an even-busier section of U.S. Highway 2 joins Grand Rapids, Minn., with Duluth and yet remains two lanes. Northern Minnesota legislators should follow their North Dakota and Montana counterparts' lead and push for widening this vital link across their state's northern tier.
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald