A 30-mile stretch of highway in northwestern North Dakota that has led the state in traffic fatalities at times during the boom was once again denied federal funds to expand the two-lane stretch to four lanes.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation submitted two grants for the U.S. Highway 85 project this year. One was for a $40 million infrastructure grant from a federal highway program, the other was for $25 million from the Build Program. Both grant pools were around $900 million, or almost $2 billion total in available funds.

While North Dakota received $268.5 million for highway projects in 2019, all of that funding has been allocated to other projects in the state.

“That’s two strikes right now with no money,” Sen. Dale Patten, R-Watford City, told the Williston Herald. “So at this point, we do not have the ability to go forward with anything other than probably planning. No construction funding is available.”

Patton said that stretch of highway continues to be a very dangerous route in the state. It’s used by 4,200 vehicles per day, according to the state’s most recent traffic count.

“Delays like this are always troubling because they push it back another year or two in completion, and every time we have that delay we have increased the risks of highway deaths and injuries as a result of an accident,” Patton said.

Cal Klewin, executive director for the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway, said the repeated rejection of federal grant funding for the North Dakota project has been mystifying.

He has compiled figures showing that the two-lane highway is carrying most of the state’s oversized and overweight permits.

“That pretty much tells what the need is to have this in a four-lane system,” he said. “We will continue to push forward and do whatever we can to complete the project. It is a high priority corridor on the national highway system and it is a very high priority in North Dakota as far as our transportation system.”

Whether funds for the project could come from the states now $6.5 billion Legacy Fund is something Patton said cannot now be considered until the next legislative session in 2021.

“I don’t know if there will be another series (of federal grants) next year,” Patton said. “But if there is, I’m sure we will be submitting those applications if they are available. It’s just very disappointing. We will just have to keep trying.”

While funding to four-lane the Long X corridor has proven elusive, work on the 60-year-old bridge itself is already underway.

The four-lane, open-deck bridge — a $34 million project— is nearly half completed. It’s expected to open for traffic in the fall of 2020.

Some of the old bridge, meanwhile, will be salvaged by a Linton-area rancher.

He is going to install it over Beaver Creek on his land.

The bridge is a 2.2-mile segment of an overall 67-mile project on Highway 85 that the state has studied and prioritized. But so far the rest of the project has no funding.

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