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I-94 Business Loop Reconstruction Improves Safety for Both Vehicles and Pedestrians

by: Larry Bernstein
Concrete is poured on a section of the I-94 Business Loop in Dickinson, North Dakota.
Concrete is poured on a section of the I-94 Business Loop in Dickinson, North Dakota.
Located in southwest North Dakota is the city of Dickinson. The city, which has a population of approximately 22,000, is about an hour south of the Baaken Oil Shale Basin and was impacted by the oil boom the state experienced. The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) and the City of Dickinson recently completed a project in the area known as the Interstate 94 Business Loop.

The I-94 Business Loop had an average daily traffic count of just over 9,000 vehicles as of 2016. The majority of traffic is local traffic. However, the I-94 Business Loop is part of the east business truck route, as it provides alternate routes around the city. The loop goes through Dickinson from the I-94 west interchange to I-94 east interchange.

The loop last had work done in 2013. That work was preventive maintenance and didn’t address the underlying maintenance issues, including the need to widen and extend pavement structure.

Multiple Elements
The main two components of the project were the asphalt overlay and lane widening on the I-94 Business Loop and the addition of a shared-use path.

With the additional lane, the loop went from a two-lane roadway with no turn lanes to a two-lane roadway with middle turn lanes and wider shoulders. Along the same 1.5-mile stretch, the team added underground storm drains and culverts, did some grading, made concrete additions, and did an overlay that consisted of 6 inches of asphalt.

Also included in the project was the implementation of lighting along the entire area. “Previously, lighting in the project area was limited to the intersections,” says Denis Oyugi of NDDOT, who served as the team leader for the project for the DOT and was involved in overseeing the consultants and the contractor. “By improving visibility in the area, we have improved safety.”

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The shared used path – located on the north side of the loop – is open to walkers, joggers, and bicyclists. The path extends for approximately 1.5 miles.

At one intersection along the project limits, they did some realignment and concrete work. A permanent traffic light was also installed to help regulate traffic flow.

Keeping Local Businesses and Traffic in Mind
Some of the challenges the team faced, according to Oyugi, are typical for construction that takes place in an urban setting. For example, creating space to work and not interfere with local businesses was a major concern.

“We had to coordinate with local business to keep them open with minimal construction interference,” Oyugi says. “We were in constant communication with local business to get them on board with construction events.”

Along the same vein was traffic control. The team was determined to maintain traffic control through the many construction phases. By doing this, they were able to keep the roadway open and maintain access to local businesses.

Relocating utilities can also be a challenge on projects like these. The team decided to make utility relocation the first step in the process. As the team moved forward on the project, there were minimal issues related to utilities that impacted it.

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Northern Improvement was the prime contractor on the project. They have worked with the district over the years on similar projects and complexity levels. They were selected because they were the lowest responsible bidder that was registered in North Dakota.

“They have the experience, equipment, materials, and manpower to get a job of this type done,” Oyugi says. “Their efficient crew and network of subs help ensure the schedule flows and work progresses in a timely manner.” Northern Improvement also has a good relationship with NDDOT, which helps smooth out the process as well.

Strong Communication Keeps the Schedule
The $11.5 million project was financed by the federal (80 percent), state, (10 percent) and city (10 percent) governments. The project was on budget. However, the team is working on a few approved change orders to handle issues that came up. Some of the change orders involved working on readjusting utility manholes, an approach that had to re-set to better accommodate drainage, and a couple fire hydrants had to be brought up to meet current standards.

The project began in April 2021 and was substantially complete on time in November. Upon the writing of this article, there’s one non-critical item left to be completed: installing the lighting. It has been delayed due to supply issues.

Oyugi credits the team meetings for enabling the project to complete on time. “During our weekly project team meetings, we were able to discuss issues that came up and work through them to make sure we were progressing.” The primary issues the team had to deal with were the change orders.

With the completion of the project, the driving public can enjoy a better flow of traffic and improved overall safety. Pedestrians have access to a shared-use path. Everyone benefits from the safety improvements in the corridor.

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