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ND road investments paying off in less maintenance

BISMARCK--A large infusion of one-time spending into statewide infrastructure has helped reduce projected maintenance costs for the next 20 years, according to a group working on an updated study of long-term county, township and tribal road need...

TOM STROMME/Bismarck Tribune Tim Horner, the director of the Transportation Learning Network at the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute speaks at an interim meeting of the legislative Transportation Committee on Wednesday in the state capitol in Bismarck. In back is Al Dybing, an associate research fellow with the UGPTI.
TOM STROMME/Bismarck Tribune Tim Horner, the director of the Transportation Learning Network at the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute speaks at an interim meeting of the legislative Transportation Committee on Wednesday in the state capitol in Bismarck. In back is Al Dybing, an associate research fellow with the UGPTI.

BISMARCK-A large infusion of one-time spending into statewide infrastructure has helped reduce projected maintenance costs for the next 20 years, according to a group working on an updated study of long-term county, township and tribal road needs across the state.

The 2016 study forecasts needs for roads and bridges totaling nearly $8.8 billion for the 2017-2036 period, according to information presented Wednesday to the state's interim Transportation Committee by officials from the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute. Of this, nearly $1.03 billion was estimated for the 2017-19 biennium alone.

Alan Dybing, an associate research fellow with UGPTI, said these numbers were down from a 2014 study, in which the 20-year total was pegged at nearly $9.1 billion and the next two years were estimated at $1.17 billion.

The 2016 study was based on projections of an average of about 60 oil rigs drilling in the state. UGPTI did cost projections based on rig counts of 30 and 90 as well.

There were 32 active drilling rigs in the state on Wednesday, down from 70 one year ago.

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In 2013, when the oil boom was still in full swing, about one-third of paved roads were graded as being in good condition, 22 percent as poor and the rest as fair, according to Dybing.

This year, paved roads graded as good were up to 44 percent and those graded poor were down to 9 percent.

"This is showing the investments ... have led to improved conditions throughout the state," Dybing said.

Tim Horner, a program director for UGPTI, said the billions approved for road projects in the past three legislative sessions have led to better and wider road surfaces.

"Overall, the ride and pavement grades are improving. Pavements are thicker, which means you wind up with less construction over a 20-year period," said Horner, indicating the current slowdown in oil activity may also mean less wear and tear on roads.

Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, said that part of the data concerned him.

"They didn't put in inflationary costs. We can't count on this (number) forever," Ruby said.

Sen. Jerry Klein, R-Fessenden, said he fields questions frequently from constituents about the supply of gravel for roads.

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"Are we running out of gravel? Is there going to be an issue?" he asked.

With the sharp increase in traffic and infrastructure needs in recent years due to oil and gas activity, there has been a heightened demand for quality gravel, according to Dybing, who said some counties have had bring in gravel from longer distances, sometimes by rail.

"We do know that there are counties that are buying it from out of state," Dybing said.

The full 166-page draft report can be viewed at www.ugpti.org .

Related Topics: TRANSPORTATION
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