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Bill would let counties ask DOT to maintain highways

BISMARCK -- Counties could ask the North Dakota Department of Transportation to take over maintenance of county highways on a temporary or permanent basis under a bill draft presented to a state energy committee on Monday.

The draft, prepared by Legislative Council at the request of the Legislature's Energy Development and Transmission Committee, would allow the DOT director to approve the application by the county's board of commissioners, with conditions if he so chooses.

Transfer applications could be based on a number of factors, including traffic volumes, types of traffic and development of the state's natural resources, which has brought heavy truck traffic to the state's oil patch.

Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, the committee's chairman, said the bill was drafted to allow for public input. He said he heard from a Dunn County commissioner who raised concerns about the added responsibility to the state and response times.

Sen. John Andrist, R-Crosby, called the bill draft "a good idea." He said an attempt was made years ago to transfer a county highway to the DOT, and "we found the transportation department was giving lip service, showing some interest in studying it before they rejected it."

"We can allow people to apply for this, but is there any indication that the Highway Department might consider?" he said. "They've been very reluctant over the years to take on additional mileage."

Wardner said now that the Fargo-based Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute is conducting studies all over North Dakota, the state has a better handle on its road system.

"Because we do have resources, I think the state is committed to making sure that we have good roads in the state," he said. "So I see that as we move forward, whether it's a county or a state road, we're going to try to get it taken care of if it's necessary and needed for commerce in that particular area."

Under a temporary highway transfer, the county would annually pay the cost of maintenance to the state highway fund. If the transfer was permanent, the director could require the county to pay all, part or none of the maintenance costs on a permanent or temporary basis.

Permanent transfers would become part of the state highway system, while temporary transfers would remain part of the county road system.