HICKSON, N.D. — Work has started on building a four-lane, asphalt bypass road that is the first phase of a three-year project to raise Interstate 29 on a 4-mile stretch south of Fargo.

The $66 million project is part of the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion to ensure traffic keeps moving along the interstate in case the Red River floods and water is backed up in the area near Oxbow, Hickson and the Wild Rice River.

Kris Bakkegard, the diversion's director of engineering, said the higher interstate and the raising of about three miles of Cass County roads on the southwest side of Oxbow will give residents of Oxbow, Hickson and the nearby Bakke Addition, as well as rural residents, a safe traffic outlet if a major flood occurs.

Water could pool up around the road, but it would likely remain open even in the event of a 500-year flood.

The interstate to the north of the raised stretch will be inside the diversion protection zone, according to officials who held an open house on Wednesday, May 26, at the Hickson Community Center to explain the project and timeline to residents.

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Industrial Builders Inc. of West Fargo won the bid for the road-raising project. The company has moved equipment to the site of the bypass and started to haul in dirt from two nearby excavation areas.

Matt Pollert, a superintendent for the company, said the project will use about 1 million yards of dirt, with the asphalt bypass slated to be done by this fall. He said about 60 employees are working on the project this year.

The bypass is being constructed east of the interstate with a transition planned near the County Highway 18 exit to Oxbow and Hickson running north to near the Wild Rice River bridges just south of the County Road 16 exit to Horace.

After the bypass is in place, work will continue for the next two years on the raising of the interstate, with a completion date of fall 2023.

The southern embankment of the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion is shown on the left, with a channel that's part of the diversion going under two new bridges to be built on an elevated 4-mile stretch of Interstate 29 near the Wild Rice River. The road will be raised about 17 feet near the embankment; in the other sections, I-29 will be raised about 5 feet. Rendering courtesy of Houston Engineering
The southern embankment of the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion is shown on the left, with a channel that's part of the diversion going under two new bridges to be built on an elevated 4-mile stretch of Interstate 29 near the Wild Rice River. The road will be raised about 17 feet near the embankment; in the other sections, I-29 will be raised about 5 feet. Rendering courtesy of Houston Engineering

Next year, about 90 employees will be needed as they start work on raising the interstate about 5 feet, although the road will be raised about 17 to 18 feet when it goes over the southern embankment of the diversion near the Wild Rice River, Pollert said.

Bakkegard said the raised concrete interstate will be gently sloped with a gradual rise that won't be that noticeable to motorists.

The other part of the project will involve raising sections of County Roads 18 and 81 about 5 feet on the southwest edge of Oxbow and Hickson.

That work involves about 3 miles of the highways and is expected to start next spring and be done by the subsequent fall. It will require a detour in the area as the exit into Oxbow will be shut down from the interstate. The roads in that area of the work will also be closed.

LeeAnn Shultz, who lives in the Bakke Addition that has about 57 homes just northwest of Oxbow, came to the open house to learn more about the timeline for the work and to ask about the ring dike that will be finished as part of the diversion to protect their development. It will tie in with the ring dike around Oxbow and Hickson.

Shultz said she told officials she hopes the work of raising county roads will be finished in the summer as residents are concerned about high school students driving to Kindred for school on the rather lengthy detour route.

Shultz said the Bakke Addition is out of the floodplain, and she described the entire road-raising project and diversion as "it is what it is."

She isn't opposed to the diversion, although she thinks it may solve some problems but then create a few new ones.