AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
Driving North Dakota’s roadways in the spring is usually quite an adventure. Depending upon which part of the state you are living in and what the weather has been that particular week, you could be driving down roads that are completely under water or experiencing washboard roads that will shake your vehicle apart. You could be stuck in mud and goo up to your vehicle’s axles or dodging potholes so large that you swear they could swallow a small vehicle.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re driving down a township road, a county highway or a state highway, winter and spring seem to take their toll on our roads.
But if you’ve been out on any of the area’s roads so far this spring you know that it hasn’t been just the weather that is causing our roads to be crumbling away more rapidly than ever before. The new culprit in the demise of our roads is the heavy oilfield traffic that is running 24 hours a day/seven days a week.
These farm to market roads were never designed to withstand the intense traffic that is now using them and it shows.
One particular road in our area, North Dakota State Highway 1806, is in particularly bad shape with several sections of the highway completely destroyed. Highway 1806 not only serves as a major farm to market road in McKenzie County and is a major highway used by recreationists from all over western North Dakota and eastern Montana to access Lake Sakakawea at Tobacco Garden Recreation Area, but it is also a major road being used by oil companies for hauling oil rigs, frack tanks, and water to the drilling sites.
And the present condition of Highway 1806 has area residents rightly concerned. They worry that the rapidly deteriorating conditions of this highway will continue as truck traffic continues to destroy the roadway, and they wonder what will be left of the road surface by the time that the North Dakota Dept. of Transportation gets around to making permanent repairs.
Their concerns are valid. Even though Gov. Dalrymple earlier this week signed the DOT’s budget, which includes over a billion dollars to build and repair roadways across the state and in the oil-impacted regions of western North Dakota, the question is how quickly can these funds be made available to fix roads like North Dakota State Highway 1806.
That is not even a question that the DOT appears to have an answer to.
Even though the DOT now has hundreds of millions of dollars to fix roads across the state, the rapid decline of State Highway 1806 completely caught the DOT off-guard. Assurances have been made by the DOT that the road will not revert to a gravel state, but they do not have a good answer as to when substantial repairs will be made. Even District 39 Rep. David Drovdal acknowledges that there is probably not going to be a fast fix for this state highway.
So how long will it take the DOT to fix Highway 1806? The best answer, according to the DOT, is it will take at least two to three years to complete the widening and graveling for the project and then four years to get it paved, depending on continued funding for oil impacted roadways in the next biennium.
Six to seven years is too long a time to wait for a state highway, such as ND 1806, to be repaired. Hopefully, the DOT can fast track these repairs and use this project as a shining example of how the state is going to take care of its roads in the oil-impacted areas of North Dakota.