- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - To combat increased highway troubles, an oil patch-area planning group is pushing to ferry cars and trucks across Lake Sakakawea, a move they say will help relieve traffic and accidents on nearby highways.

The Vision West Consortium, a western North Dakota planning group, voted last week to study whether ferrying vehicles across Lake Sakakawea is a viable option to help reduce traffic-related accidents and deaths that have risen in recent years due to the oil boom.

Daryl Dukart, the commissioner for Vision West, said the area has seen higher accident and death rates - numbers that correlate to increased traffic on the roads in oil patch cities.

“It’s created a traffic nightmare. It really has,” said Mark Resner, the economic development director for Hettinger County and the project lead for the ferry.

Dukart added that the high number of traffic accidents in the area is also straining local emergency services.

To spread traffic out, Resner said he envisions limiting the ferry to passenger cars and light trucks, but excluding heavy trucks, like semi-trucks and oil tankers.

Dukart said a ferry is preferable to building a highway in order to keep costs down. Also, in the unlikely event the oil boom quiets down anytime soon, a ferry is more salvageable than a bridge, he said.

Both Resner and Dukart said the ferry could also help bridge the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, which has land on both sides of the lake.

Dukart said he hasn’t met with tribal council, but from informal talks with reservation members he feels the reaction has been mostly positive. But, he added several residents were also less than supportive.