MAKING IT: Historic Construction

When Knife River Corp. finishes work on a bypass reroute of U.S. Highway 85 that currently runs through the Bakken hub-city of Watford City, N.D., the community's truck traffic will be reduced by 3,700 trucks per day.
By The Bakken Magazine Staff | November 27, 2013

In Watford City, N.D., road construction is not frowned upon. In fact, it’s celebrated. Thanks to Knife River Corp., a construction firm subsidiary of MDU Resources, the Bakken’s hub city has much to celebrate. This fall, Knife River started a bypass reroute project that will alleviate passage of nearly 3,700 trucks through the heart of the city every day. For Knife River, the bypass represents the largest road construction project the company has ever undertaken in the state. For those who have never traveled the existing roadway, imagine driving through your favorite small town in a traffic jam of semis. The long line of traffic rumbles through the area for the majority of the day, seven days a week.

The U.S. 85 Watford City Bypass project will reroute Highway 85 traffic onto a new roadway southwest of Watford City. The overall goal is to enhance safety and traffic movement through the area, whose congestion is widely recognized as an unfortunate byproduct of oil development in the region. The completed project will span 9 miles. Knife River will build 7.5 miles of new, four-lane roadway and is also working on a 1.5 mile tie-in with existing roadway.

“We’re excited to be involved in this project for a couple of important reasons,” says Tony Spilde, senior public relations representative for Knife River. “First, it’s great to be on the team that is making Highway 85—and Watford City’s main street—safer. This is a significant step forward for safety on the Highway 85 corridor. Second, a project of this magnitude is instrumental in putting a lot of people to work. It’s the largest construction project Knife River has ever had in North Dakota.”

Construction began on Sept. 30 on the north end of the project. The goal, Spilde says, is to get more than half of the mass grading done this year. The team has already moved more than 200,000 cubic yards of material, bringing the road up to grade. The team has also begun installing a box culvert and other drainage conduit.

Although Knife River has major capabilities and resources to complete the project on time, there are challenges, Spilde says. “Rain has already caused a few stoppages, but it’s still early and we’re definitely still on track,” he says. When winter does hit, the team will stop all earth work and begin hauling base rock to the project site. The plan is to bring in 250,000 tons of base rock in through December. Some will be placed and some will be stockpiled. As soon as possible in the spring, the team will resume grading work and bring in another 250,000 tons of base rock for the southern portion of the bypass.

Concrete paving work will take place next year on the southern tie-in, amounting to roughly 27,000 cubic yards of concrete. In August, mainline paving will begin and 196,000 tons of asphalt will be paved on the new route. “We expect the bypass to open by the end of October 2014,” Spilde says.

In addition to weather battles, the Knife River team is dealing with scheduling coordination. The team has to coordinate with eight different utility companies that need to relocate their pipelines or power lines. “These are good companies that have been great to work with, but it’s quite an undertaking to line up everyone’s schedule. We’re making good progress on that and don’t foresee any major issues,” he says.