A road to nowhere: Gravel road demolished during 2011 flooding

RIVERDALE – It used to be there. It was traveled too, but not any more. Perhaps never again. Now it is simply a road to nowhere.

The gravel road that crossed the Missouri River bottom below Garrison Dam was obliterated in 2011 by water churning through the dam’s release gates. The road proved no match for water rushing down the concrete spillway and tearing through the bottomland. When the water finally stopped flowing, it left behind a gap in the road about 200 yards wide.

The road was previously used by those wishing to cross the river through the scenic Missouri River bottom. On the west side of the river the road generally paralleled the Garrison Dam spillway’s trajectory, led past the Spillway Pond Recreation Area and then swung east past a vast North Dakota Game and Fish Department Game Management Area before intersecting a gravel road leading either to Riverdale to the north or further down river to the south. No more.

Today concrete barricades are used to stop traffic utilizing the road on both the east and west sides where releases scoured a deep cut through wooded bottomland. On either side of the cut the old road comes to an abrupt end, dropping off sharply into the newly carved channel several feet below.

The missing section of roadway is located on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, not far from the border of Mercer and McLean Counties. Nearly two years have passed since the road was washed away. All indications are that it will not be rebuilt, certainly not at any time in the foreseeable future.

“There currently is no funding to restore that road,” said Todd Lindquist, Corps of Engineers, Riverdale. “So until, or if additional funding doesn’t become available, that road will not be restored.”

With the road ending on either side of the wide cut created by the historic releases of 2011, it removes an alternative route that leads from one side of Garrison Dam to the other. In the event of a complete road closure affecting North Dakota 200 where it cross over the spillway gates and Garrison Dam, there would be no other way for traffic to cross the Missouri River other than making a detour far to the south to Washburn, where a bridge spans the Missouri. People wishing to journey from Riverdale to Pick City, normally a relatively short and quick trip across Garrison Dam, would be forced to drive approximately 65 miles to reach their destination.

The missing road served another purpose besides transportation. It formed a protective barrier that captured overflow from the nearby spillway pond. Two large culverts underneath the roadway received the overflow from the pond and passed it down a narrow channel leading to the Missouri River.

The natural slope that backed up water into the spillway pond was also washed away during the spring of 2011, drastically changing the level of water in the pond. According to the Corps, they have no plans to restore the spillway pond to its previous condition.