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Engineer group pitches ‘energy collection road system’ plan: Hard-hit energy counties could see quicker roadway repairs

Press Photo by Bryan Horwath Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute Director Denver Tolliver addresses members of the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties during a meeting Wednesday at the Dickinson Public Library.

The heart of the Bakken oilfield could eventually be home to a targeted “energy collection road system,” aimed at alleviating congestion.

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Presenting during Wednesday’s North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties at the Dickinson Public Library, Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute Director Denver Tolliver said his organization plans to take a look at the feasibility of such a system as part of a study set to begin in May.

“We’ve analyzed the road system as it is and tracked where the trucks are going and predicted where they’ll be going,” Tolliver said. “The oil and gas industry, in some of the counties we’re looking at, have asked if we should not do a broader analysis of some of the more heavily-impacted areas right now. They’d like us to look, not necessarily where the traffic is going, but where the traffic should be going.”

Tapped for the study by the state Legislature and allotted $1.25 million during the most-recent biennium, Tolliver said the institute’s goal is to pinpoint where and how transportation dollars should be spent in the future on the state’s roadways.

Though Tolliver said the study — expected to be completed by early July — is technically statewide in nature, institute officials plan to zero in on the four major oil-producing counties of Williams, Dunn, McKenzie and Mountrail in an effort to possibly build a more efficient set of roadways.

“Each of the counties right now have their county major collector systems, which were kind of defined a long time ago based on farm-to-market traffic,” Tolliver said. “After meeting with industry leaders and the (state) Oil and Gas Division, they want us to go beyond that and identify sort of a spine to the network and then collector roads going in. The division being that there would be parallel paved roads, spaced periodically, that would provide the optimal access to where oil development is happening now and into the future.”

Tolliver relayed to association members that oil industry leaders, which he did not name, told him they would provide a detailed snapshot of where the most oil activity could be expected in the Bakken for at least the next several years.

“Those roads identified would be reconstructed first and would be designed to standards such that they would be able to accommodate 105,500-pound vehicles year-round,” Tolliver said. “The vision of this is to start what would be an optimally-planned road system and put resources into that first. After that, the other roads would be improved. The idea is that, if you kept most of the trucks on those roads, you would minimize impact on the other roads.”

The industry would likely find its transportation costs increase under such a scenario because of the fact that the shortest route wouldn’t always be taken with a new series of main arteries, Tolliver said.

Adding that the northern part of Stark County could be included in the targeted area of the study, Tolliver said the idea could be viewed as controversial by some because of the fact that a small number of counties would be receiving attention before others in the state.

Association member Dan Brosz of Bowman said he wondered whether mapping out such a road system based solely on oilfield geography and not based on county lines would make more sense.

“I think the sooner we do this study, the better off we’ll be,” Brosz said. “We’re rebuilding roads now because they’re these old farm-to-market roads from the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Now, we have a different industry out there that may not follow that form.”

All seven members of the association at the meeting voted in support of the institute moving forward with the study concerning the feasibility of the targeted-area energy collection road system.

“We feel that we have a really good idea of what is under the road at this point,” Tolliver said. “We also feel we’re getting close to having the kind of data with county roads that we have when we analyze state highways. That’s also not for a county, but for all counties and that’s an unprecedented database for rural roads around the United States — not even Texas. I interact with a lot of colleagues and nobody has anything like what we have.”

Tolliver said the difference in the cost of road overlay repairs when compared with total reconstruction is estimated to be close to 30 percent.

The association is next scheduled to meet again April 10, though a small meeting is scheduled to visit with Gov. Jack Dalrymple on April 2.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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