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Building tomorrow's roads today: Legislators to learn about design-build

Traffic travels through Belfield on the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway, also known as Highway 85, Tuesday. Officials are looking into design-build, which allows construction companies who are awarded bids to design and build the project. Though it is not allowed through North Dakota legislation, it could speed up the construction process and help improve the state's road system, said Cal Klewin, Theodore Roosevelt Expressway Association executive director.

North Dakota legislators will soon learn of a concept currently not in use for road construction in North Dakota that could help speed up the process of designing and improving highways.

"We need to get these roads built as quickly as possible," Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said. "The Oil Patch people are demanding better roads now, not tomorrow. We are obligated to look at these things as legislators."

Cal Klewin, Theodore Roosevelt Expressway Association executive director, has been making his way around the state to educate officials on design-build, a method of construction that bids the designing and building aspects of roads to construction companies.

That differs from the status quo, North Dakota Department of Transportation officials said, which requires the DOT to design a project prior to construction companies bidding on it in a process known as design-bid-build.

"It is a different view of how projects are designed and constructed," he said. "In the situation of service and transportation, that is something that should be looked at to enhance some of these transportation issues that we are seeing here in the state, specifically in western North Dakota and on the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway."

Klewin said the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway, also known as Highway 85, is one of the largest north-to-south arterial roads in the state. He added he has seen more traffic on the highway due to an oil boom in western North Dakota.

"We are dealing with some safety issues," he said. "They are not built for the traffic they are seeing today."

The design-build process is allowed on a box culvert project and a signal light project as a "pilot" run, DOT spokeswoman Peggy Anderson said. Both the design-bid-build and design-build concepts must go through an environmental process and obtain the right-of-way.

"I think the thing to remember is that DOT follows what is law, and the legislature determined that we could try these two pilot projects to see what it was like," Anderson said.

Other states, such as California, have built projects faster through design-build, said Bob Fode, DOT director for project development.

"A few years ago they had a truck that had a wreck, an accident ... that dropped a whole section of the structure," he said. "About 30 days later, going through design-build, they actually opened that structure to traffic."

Fode said design-build is used more often on urban projects than rural. He added the state wanted to try it on the two projects to see if it would work.

"We don't know what will happen with this pilot project to see if we will be able to go down that path," he said. "We will have to report back to the Legislature and how far they want to take that, that will be up to the Legislature to determine."

Klewin said state officials need to look at expanding Highway 85 to four lanes as soon as possible, and the design-build concept would help construction move along faster.

"The thing that we have to look at is the connectivity of our states in a modern fashion, typically with the freight movements," he said. "The Theodore Roosevelt Expressway Association wants to work with state, federal and local leadership to make sure we have a proper surface transportation system in North Dakota and all of rural America."

Wardner said he wants to learn more about design-build and how it could affect western North Dakota, adding the highways need improvement.

"If it is something that will help us, we will surely take an awful good look at it or try to pass any legislation that we need to," Wardner said. "It's for us to learn."

According the DOT's Statewide Transportation Improvement Program for 2012-15, more than $64 million worth of road projects are scheduled for the Dickinson District in the 2012 fiscal year. The district includes Adams, Billings, Bowman, Dunn, Golden Valley, Hettinger, Mercer, Oliver, Slope and Stark counties. Projects range in size from major rehabilitation to preventative maintenance, including a $9.4 million widening project for Highway 22 from Dickinson to south of the Dunn County line.

Klewin said he is going to continue traveling around the state to educate local and state officials on the design-build concept. He will also give a design-build presentation to state legislators at the State Capitol Building on Jan. 31.