WILLISTON, N.D. — Officials broke ground on two truck bypasses in North Dakota's oil-rich northwest on Tuesday, which they hope will relieve traffic congestion and make city roads safer.
The bypass projects, which will cost the state a total of $190 million, will aim to divert truck traffic around the city of Williston and the much smaller town of Alexander, about 25 miles to the south.
Since the oil boom began, the number of trucks on the roads in northwestern North Dakota has increased dramatically, contributing considerably to a rise in traffic, accidents, noise and dust in the area. Oil drilling in North Dakota relies on hydraulic fracturing, which requires thousands of truck trips to an oil well in the first year of a well's life alone.
Hydraulic fracturing refers to the practice of injecting water, sand and chemicals into drilled holes to promote the flow of oil or natural gas by fracturing rocks.
"For those who live in Williston, every truck that goes around town is a blessing," said Williston Mayor Ward Koeser.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple and North Dakota Department of Transportation Director Grant Levi also presided over the groundbreaking in an empty field west of Williston, ceremoniously digging dirt. On Tuesday afternoon, the dirt tracks leading to the site were engulfed in clouds of dust as trucks headed to nearby oil wells.
But by next year, this plot of land should be transformed into a four-lane roadway that will run for 13 miles to the west of town. The project is budgeted at $162 million and construction is set to begin this year a statement from Dalrymple's office said.
The Alexander bypass will be nearly four miles long and cost $28 million. Some 12,000 vehicles - including 2,000 trucks - pass through tiny Alexander every day, a town that had a population of just 223 in the 2010 census.
"The state is dedicated to helping communities such as Williston and Alexander deal with the impacts of rapid growth," said North Dakota Department of Transportation Director Grant Levi in a statement released by Dalrymple's office. "These new truck bypass projects will provide alternative routes for trucks around these communities and help enhance the quality of life for the region's citizens."
The statement added that truck bypass projects for two other oil patch towns are also in the works.
"We are committed to continuing to address the impacts of rapid growth in western North Dakota, and a key part of those efforts is to ensure that the region's roadways are safe and the truck traffic on its main streets is reduced," Dalrymple said in a statement.