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Turning U.S. Highway 85 between Watford City and Williston into a four-lane highway will be the biggest state Department of Transportation project in its history and some of the major work is scheduled this summer.

The project will be done in two phases with the first, longest phase scheduled for construction this year.

DOT spokeswoman Jamie Olson said no cost estimates are available yet because the project is still in the design phase. Those numbers will come into focus when design work wraps up this spring, she said.

The revamp will start with the stretch of highway from Watford City to two miles north of Alexander, about 25 miles total.

Bids for that phase will be opened May 17 and awarded in one, two or three distinct project areas, depending on how bids come in, said project manager Steve Grabill, of KLJ Engineering.

The extraordinary expense and scope of the project comes from the amount of new right-of-way that will have to be acquired and the construction of a new bridge crossing over the Missouri River just south of Williston, he said.

The second phase will be construction of four lanes from north of Alexander to Williston where Highway 85 intersects with U.S. Highway 2. Bids for the second phase will be opened in November for construction next year.

Primarily because of the new Missouri River bridge crossing, the DOT is conducting an Environmental Assessment and will hold a public hearing from 5 to 7:30 p.m. today to gather comments for the document. The hearing will be held at the Hampton Inn in Williston.

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KLJ environmental planner Jennifer Turnbow said the public can submit comments on all aspects of the second phase. She said the existing bridge will serve while the new one is under construction, either to the west or east. She said going east with a new bridge will be complicated by the number of utilities on that side, including the Williston water treatment plant.

Grabill said the four-lane highway is designed to have two, 12-foot lanes running each direction with a continuous left-turn lane running down the middle. The highway also will have 8-foot wide shoulders.

A new Highway 85 bypass also is planned to run around the outside of Alexander, but the bypass location has not yet been selected.

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Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 701-220-5511 or lauren@westriv.com.

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