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T.J. Jerke, Published June 01 2013

ND construction program largest in state history

BISMARCK – For years, the North Dakota Department of Transportation has built roads to handle trucks carrying sugar beets and moderate traffic. Now, it’s heavy oil tankers and thousands more vehicles.

The oil boom has prompted a 22 percent increase in statewide traffic since 2010, with 53 percent of that increase in western North Dakota, according to the DOT.

The increase has put a strain on North Dakota roadways, creating the need for the department’s 2013 construction program, which will be the largest in state history with 327 projects worth about $878 million.

“Roads are typically designed for a 20-year life, which requires a continual investment to keep it moving forward,” said Transportation Director Grant Levi. “These roadways weren’t designed to handle heavy loads, nor are they wide enough. We are breaking new ground putting this infrastructure in place.”

Levi held new conferences Thursday in Fargo and Watford City to unveil the 2013 construction plan, calling the total 2013-15 biennium plan of $2.3 billion provided by the state Legislature and governor a historic investment.

The $2.3 billion will be the total spent during the biennium on state, county and township roads – $1.5 billion in the Oil Patch and about $750 million everywhere.

This is a significant increase from the 2011-13 biennium, when the DOT spent $1.3 billion, with

$773 million going out west and $545 million to the east and central regions.

“The best public investment in public transportation is making improvements at the right time,” Levi said in an interview Friday.

He said now is the time to beef up western roads because they can no longer accommodate the stress and strain of the daily Oil Patch activities.

A large chunk of the department’s funding has been dispersed, and projects are already underway after Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed a bill in February worth $720 million. That money was “fast-tracked” through the legislative process to allow the road construction season to begin earlier and get a jump on the state’s unpredictable weather.

Of the funds, $620 million immediately went out west for major highway projects, predominantly in oil-producing counties, and

$100 million was disbursed Feb. 26 through the state treasurer’s office for non-oil-producing counties.

As part of the 2013 construction plan, 127 projects worth more than $694 million are planned in western North Dakota, leaving 200 projects worth more than $183 million for the central and eastern parts of the state.

Levi said Friday that despite the large gap in funding between the two sides of the state, the number of projects and funding balance out well.

Between 1995 and 2010, the DOT spent about $2.9 billion on central and eastern roads, while $1.2 billion went to the western region.

Department engineers for the Grand Forks and Fargo districts said they are happy with the 2013 plans, getting the funding and projects they need, and they do not have to compete with western state projects.