Feds approve controversial North Dakota bridge project
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The Federal Highway Administration has approved construction of a bridge across the Little Missouri River in western North Dakota, although some private landowners have been fighting the project and supporters have not said how they will pay for it.
The Bismarck Tribune reports that the Billings County Commission wants the river crossing to improve emergency response. Opponents worry it would impact the remote and scenic landscape of the Badlands. One rancher has said it would destroy his property.
Billings County Commission Chairman Jim Arthaud said a timeline for the project has not yet been established. The next steps include meeting with private landowners to try and obtain right-of-way.
“It’s been a long process and another step in the right direction,” Arthaud said.
An environmental study last year identified the Short ranch site north of Medora as the preferred route, which the feds approved last week. Rancher Dave Short said during a hearing last summer that the route would ruin his land and the county would need to use eminent domain to acquire it. The Short family said through their attorney, David Keagle, that the costs of the project outweigh the benefits.
“It’s going to help a handful of people,” Keagle said.
The crossing would connect Belle Lake Road and East River Road and involve acquiring up to 62 acres from private landowners, 15 acres from the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands and 88 acres from the U.S. Forest Service.
It would involve about 2 miles of new roadway and a 600-foot-long, three-span bridge. The project is estimated to cost $11.2 million.
Billings County has spent years researching the addition of a bridge. Current bridges at Medora are about 70 miles apart on Interstate 94 and south of Watford City on Highway 85.
Arthaud said the county has not yet identified a funding source for the project.