NEW TOWN - Every day, around 11,000 vehicles, about 4,400 of them trucks, rumble through New Town, a city impacted by the oil development.
Plans were to start construction on the first section of a bypass this year to relieve the city of the heavy traffic, but the project will be be delayed for another year because of required federal environmental clearance.
Alan Estvold, engineer with Ackerman-Estvold Engineering in Minot, said the bypass plans are completed but they don't expect to have the environmental clearance in time to start construction this year.
The City of New Town's plans to redo Main Street also are delayed. "We've had Main Street on hold for two years now," Estvold said. The bypass was expected to be used for the truck traffic while Main Street was under construction.
Kayla Burnette, New Town city auditor, said the Main Street project now would be done "at the earliest next year."
Planning for the Main Street project started in 2008 and planning for the bypass began last summer.
Ackerman-Estvold is working with the lead engineer, Ameritech Engineering Corp. in Williston, to plan the bypass project. On the Main Street project, Ameritech is working with lead engineer, Ackerman-Estvold.
The bypass, a two-lane road, will have two sections a northeast section and a northwest section.
The environmental clearance needed for the northeast bypass, the first section of the bypass to be constructed, is to fill a small wetland area.
"Frankly, on the 55th Street job, we filled more wetlands," said Estvold, referring to the 55th Street Northeast Bypass project, one of the area's largest projects under way on the east side of Minot.
"We filled about 20 acres of wetlands there and we did it on a one-week nationwide 404 permit. Here we are filling about 2 acres of wetlands and have to get an individual 404 permit," he said.
Section 404 is part of the federal Clean Water Act.
He said there seems to be more stringent interpretation of the regulations now than just a couple years ago. "We do have to have environmental oversight, and I'd like to think that we (engineers) don't destroy our environment," he said.
The Federal Highway Administration is the lead federal agency for the environmental document.
Grant Levi, deputy director for Engineering with the North Dakota Department of Transportation in Bismarck, said the environmental document is a federal requirement and those requirements are not that easy to satisfy.
"Our director, Francis Ziegler, has asked us to work with them to supply assistance where we can to help them get through those federal requirements," Levi said.
He said the bypass requires the environmental document because any of the New Town Bypass routes being considered would impact U.S. waters.
There's also a landfill, old coal mines and numerous archaeological sites in the area, Estvold said.
"The state of North Dakota is very interested in this project very interested. The governor has basically dedicated $6 million for this project," Levi said. He said the funding will be available as soon as the environmental document is completed.
Jeff Zent, a spokesman for Gov. Jack Dalrymple, said the New Town Bypass is a high priority for the governor. "That's why the state has already earmarked about $6 million for the project," Zent said.
He said Dalrymple has met with officials from New Town and Mountrail County to move the project forward.
"The state Transportation Department has made engineers available to assist local officials who are leading the project's development. Local officials are currently working on the project's environmental assessment process which is required by the federal government," Zent said.
Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes on the Fort Berthold Reservation, said they need the bypass for the safety of everyone including the schools, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, restaurants and business places in New Town.
"Right now we're getting into the peak of the Bakken boom and with new wells coming in, it will create more traffic problems in the next 18 months," he said. He said there are 50 wells already on the reservation and about 400 wells are expected to be drilled in the next two years and that will double the traffic."
"You would think federal agencies would expedite the (environmental) process so the citizens of this area would have a safe place to drive and a safe place to cross on Main Street in New Town. As it is now, this is unacceptable," Hall said.
Traffic volume growing
In the meantime, traffic on New Town's Main Street is heavy, and a growing problem.
"Traffic through Main Street is about 11,000 vehicles a day," Estvold said. He said 40 percent of that traffic is trucks.
"You can't put anymore vehicles there because they're bumper to bumper already virtually. During peak hours they are bumper to bumper and then if anybody stops to make a left turn, you've got traffic backed up," he said. He said it's very hard, if not impossible at times, for anyone to try to walk across Main Street.
At mid-day Tuesday, a semi loaded with a huge tank made its way through New Town's Main Street followed by tankers, frack sand trucks and many other oil-field trucks, intermingled with all the other traffic. Those making a turn at the N.D. Highways 23 and 1804 intersection and any other turn along Main Street, brought all the traffic to a stop for a time.
One resident said the traffic volume "comes and goes" throughout the day and evening, and they just try to get used to the noise.
Estvold said one of the major concerns with all the traffic in New Town is a skateboard area is located on the south side of Main Street and kids who want to use it have to cross the street. The swimming pool is also located in that area, but currently the pool is closed.
Burnette said plans are to build a new swimming pool, but it will be on the north side of Main Street instead of the present location.
When construction does start on the bypass a two-lane road it will be done in two sections a northeast section and a northwest section. The northeast section will be done first.
Traffic surveys conducted in New Town in recent years show the city warrants traffic lights because of the heavy traffic and growing traffic in the town.
"We couldn't get the details worked out but we have visited with DOT and now they are recommending a streetlight at (N.D. Highways) 1804 and 23," Estvold said.
When construction begins on Main Street, Estvold said they plan to put up temporary signals. He said one of the temporary signals will be near the train engine at the east side of New Town and the other one will be at the N.D. Highways 1804 and 23 intersection.
He said the truck traffic will need to go off Main Street and onto the street by the elevator, a street south of Main Street. He said that street has been reinforced to handle trucks.
The Transportation Department currently is working on new traffic counts, Levi said.
"Something just has to be done over there," Estvold said."You can't move around town, you can't get across to go from one store to the other. The town can't function with all those trucks in town."