A heavy, late-October snowfall short-circuited work on the widening of Highway 85 to four lanes between Watford City and the LongX Bridge, but officials with the ND Department of Transportation say progress on the $77.2 million project is about where they expected it would be when winter shuts it down.
Bill Gathman, project engineer for the NDDOT's Northwest District, said most of the work this year involved grading, installation of drainage structures and ensuring the stability of the road surface in rugged terrain. But Gathman said crews were also able to lay down gravel road base in a portion of the project and some paving work was completed.
"We got a couple miles paved, but traffic's not going to be put on that section this winter, so traffic is going to stay where it is right now and where it's been all year," he said. "The pavement we have left to put down is in that Badlands area, basically the south end the job."
Gathman said remaining construction this fall will concentrate on shoulder work on the section of highway up the hill north of the LongX Bridge.
"We did some shoulder work in there, and then of course the storm came in, so they haven't had a chance to get it back in yet," he said. "Their plans moving forward are to get those shoulders paved back in going up the hill, so that we can get our widths back so we can have a passing lane going northbound. If we can get that part buttoned up, we'll just have some signage and stuff left to do so we should be in pretty good shape."
Gathman said despite a weather forecast that promises another week or two of mild fall weather, not much additional work can be done because of the moisture left behind by the early snow.
"It's gonna be tough to do any work in mud and wet conditions," he said. "At this point we just need to get paved what we can pave to get it buttoned up because our dry days are over. Our construction days are essentially over, it's just too wet."
The 10.3-mile project is expected to be open to traffic in the fall of 2024. Preliminary efforts are also underway for the next leg of the four-lane expansion, which will run from the LongX Bridge south to Highway 200 near Grassy Butte.
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