South Dakota, Montana experience pros and cons to North Dakota's oil boomMEDORA — When North Dakotans drill for oil, Montana and South Dakota residents reap some economic benefits. They also get the traffic headaches too.
By: Betsy Simon, The Dickinson Press
MEDORA — When North Dakotans drill for oil, Montana and South Dakota residents reap some economic benefits. They also get the traffic headaches too.
At Wednesday’s Theodore Roosevelt South Dakota and Montana Expressway Annual Update Meeting at the Rough Rider Hotel in Medora, transportation representatives from South Dakota and Montana were invited for the first time to discuss the impact North Dakota’s oil boom has had on their states’ roads traffic issues.
“It’s not just in North Dakota that we’ve seen increased traffic issues, especially with the agricultural and oil traffic in this part of the country,” said Wayne Bieberdorf, North Dakota Energy Impact Coordinator. “We’re all neighbors up here and we need to work together to get road issues taken care of.”
Shane Mintz, Glendive District Administrator for the Montana Department of Transportation, said last fall MDT partnered with the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute and North Dakota State University for a research project on the impact of oil production on Montana state highways through the Bakken oil fields.
The data showed that the routes that are already experiencing increased traffic flow will only get worse, Mintz said.
“We are making an effort to get out in front on this as much as we feasibility can, but we have limitations with funding,” he said. “So far what we’ve seen from oil impact, and there is no doubt there is activity in Montana, but primarily what we’re seeing in the corridor isn’t caused by drilling in Montana. It’s caused by the drilling in North Dakota.”
While oil truck traffic is less of an issue in South Dakota, Blaise Emerson, executive director of the Black Hills Council of Local Governments and Black Hills Community Economic Development Inc., said, “We are not seeing direct energy impact that North Dakota is experiencing, or even that eastern Montana is seeing. I sat on the governor’s task force (in South Dakota) for that, and we’re not predicting that kind of direct impact from oil or gas development in western South Dakota, at least for a number of years. But what we are seeing is a large impact on the supply of goods and services up here with truck and other vehicle traffic.”
Emerson said the South Dakota Department of Transportation changed its method of traffic counting to look at traffic over one week, versus the one day in the summer they usually do and found that traffic varies day to day more than they thought.
“What we saw was a 50 percent increase in traffic since 2005, both from passenger vehicles to trucks,” he said. “That opened up the eyes of the people at the DOT a little bit. We’re still not at the point that they work to make roads, like Highway 85 four lanes. However, we have got DOT to look at turning and passing lanes on that section of Highway 85, north of Belle Fourche to the state line.”
Emerson said it’s not just about Highway 85, though.
“When you look at northwest South Dakota, it is one of the most rural, sparsely populated areas in the state, so increased traffic safety issues were really starting to become a concern because if people know they are not going to be picked up, they are going to be moving fast,” he said. “The highway patrol increased their patrols up there, and that has gotten speeds under control and made it a much safer environment up there with their presence.”