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A truck crosses the Long X Bridge on U.S. Highway 85 south of Watford City in 2014.

Forum News Service photo

The North Dakota Department of Transportation is proposing to remove the historic Long X Bridge and is seeking a public or private agency to adopt one or more segments of the structure.

The announcement Monday came as the agency published the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed expansion of U.S. Highway 85 in western North Dakota.

Proponents of the highway expansion say a four-lane highway is needed to improve safety due to increased oil traffic, but others have raised concerns about impacts to the 7-mile stretch through the Badlands and the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The Department of Transportation’s preferred alternative is to expand Highway 85 between Interstate 94 and Watford City to a divided, four-lane highway with a depressed center median.

The roadway footprint through the Badlands segment would be reduced as much as possible and three wildlife crossings are proposed to minimize impacts, the agency said in documents now available for public comment.

The agency studied three options for the Long X Bridge that crosses the Little Missouri River near the entrance of the national park.

One option was to retain the Long X Bridge for an alternate use and construct a new four-lane bridge adjacent to it. The agency also studied rehabilitating the Long X Bridge, including increasing its clearance, and building a new two-lane bridge next to it.

The department’s preferred option is to remove the bridge that was constructed in 1959 and replace it with a four-lane bridge to the east.

Because the Long X Bridge is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the Department of Transportation is making one or more segments of the bridge available for adoption during an advertisement period that ends June 14.

The bridge is available to “any responsible state, local or private agency willing to take ownership of, relocate and preserve the Long X Bridge in a new location,” with preference given to public entities, the agency said.

The Department of Transportation will fund the disassembly, loading and transportation of one of the segments of the bridge within 100 miles of the current location.

The adopting party would be responsible for maintaining the bridge segment and would assume future legal and financial responsibility.

Construction of a new bridge is anticipated to occur in 2019, and the Long X Bridge would remain in use until the new bridge is constructed, the department said.

Jan Dodge, director of the Pioneer Museum in McKenzie County, said she’s hopeful the bridge named for the Long X Cattle Trail will be preserved. Dodge said she’d like to see it become a walking bridge, potentially incorporated with the Maah Daah Hey Trail, or for a segment of the bridge to become a monument.

“It definitely has historic value,” Dodge said. “It’s a connecting point for our county as far as commerce goes.”

During the oil boom, several oversized trucks struck the overhead framing of the Long X bridge, sometimes requiring it to be closed for hours or even days. 

For more information or to express interest in adopting the bridge, contact Matt Linneman, project manager for the North Dakota Department of Transportation, at 701-328-6904 or DOTUS85@nd.gov by June 14.

Public comment is open until June 25 on the Highway 85 draft environmental impact statement.

When preparing the document, the Department of Transportation considered three alternatives for Highway 85: taking no action; constructing a divided, four-lane highway with a depressed median; and constructing a divided four-lane highway with a flush center median.

Conservationists have previously questioned why the department didn’t study an alternative that kept Highway 85 as a two-lane highway through the Badlands, citing concerns about noise and traffic speeds.

Proponents of the four-lane highway say it’s necessary to improve safety, handle oil and agriculture traffic and promote economic development.

(Reach Amy Dalrymple at 701-250-8267 or Amy.Dalrymple@bismarcktribune.com)

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