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ND gets $2M in grants go to NDHP, NDDOT to improve traffic safety

By April Baumgarten

The U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration awarded more than $2 million in grants to North Dakota on Tuesday morning in Bismarck. This comes at a time where oil production means more traffic and safety concerns, local officials say.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol received $1.96 million to conduct compliance reviews, safety audits and inspections for commercial trucks and buses, according to a press release.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation received $349,131 to implement an electronic commercial driver's license testing


Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. James Prochniak said the funds would be used for three components -- motor carrier inspectors, an entrant program and border inspection program.

The NDHP has been a part of FMCSA funding since 1983. Prochniak said the funds had helped considerably in providing commercial truck and bus safety.

"Until you receive word that you have received those funds, you are sitting there just hoping that everything continues so you can emphasize motor carrier safety," he said.

Eighty percent of funds come from the FMCSA program while the other 20 percent comes from state dollars, said Prochniak, and not receiving funds from FMCSA would have a huge impact on safety programs.

"The number one consequence would be the safety component and holding that industry to safety standards and making sure they are operating safe equipment," Prochniak said. "It would also force our agency to look for other measures to fund that program."

The North Dakota Motor Carrier Association, in Bismarck, also offers programs to educate motorists on how to operate vehicles safely while on the road. NDMCA Executive Vice-President Thomas Balzer was happy to hear about the grants.

"It's a great opportunity for the state," said Balzer. "The trucking industry welcomes anything we can do to improve the safety of the roads."

Balzer said he was surprised to hear that more than 80 percent of accidents between passenger vehicles and commercial trucks were caused by an error by the passenger vehicle driver. Educating the public how to operate vehicles around trucks has been a concern for the NDMCA.

Local and state law enforcement has noticed the increase in traffic. Dunn County Sherriff Don Rockvoy said traffic is only going to increase.

"We see ourselves playing out more and more on the highway," Rockvoy said. "We are just taking this day by day and doing the best we can."

With more traffic, the chances of getting into an accident are higher. Prochniak said his officers are starting to get stretched out in order to meet the demand of enforcing safety regulations.

"That pressure is all over the state," he said. "It's something that requires a lot of attention and it is putting a lot of pressure on our agency."

Prochniak said he's been fielding a number of public concerns. He added that these funds could be used to address the problems he hears about.

"They (the comments) do not fall on deaf ears, but we got to keep trying to help them out and make them feel safe and enforce the law."