March 25, 2014

County roadways get attention from county, state officials

By Stephanie Norman
Farmer Staff Writer

Road construction is amongst the essential projects in the near future for McKenzie County.
According to Ron Anderson, chairman of the McKenzie County Commissioners, nearly 130 miles of roadways needs to be paved and it will cost roughly $1.5 million per mile.
“All of our roads were originally built to sustain much less traffic,” Anderson said. “Every mile of our roads needs to be redone and paved for a load limit up to 105,500 pounds.”
The most heavily traveled stretch of road in the county is U.S. Highway 85 between Williston, through Alexander, and into Watford City. The All Traffic Solutions Speed Summary Report for early March shows an average of 17,500 vehicles passing through Alexander on U.S. Highway 85 on a daily basis.
“This number is down from the high of last summer of about 21,250 vehicles per day,” said Larry Novak, operator of the traffic device in Alexander.
Although the count is down now, by the time summer arrives, more work trucks will be on the road because the weather will allow for more construction and movement.
Suhail Kanwar, McKenzie County Public Works director, pointed out, that although U.S. Highway 85 gets the most dense use, the vehicles are entering and exiting connecting county roads, hauling heavy equipment and loads and causing damage to smaller roads - some gravel and some paved. Not only that, but the amount of traffic the roadways are seeing is not what they were built to endure.
There are also plans for a northern bypass, from U.S. Highway 85 to 1806, to be constructed, which will be about 30 miles long.
“We really need to spread some of the traffic out,” Anderson said. “McKenzie County has the highest number of traffic-related deaths for the second year in a row.”
Kanwar said the northern bypass is in the design stages now, as well as the U.S. Highway 85 bypass. The bypass south of town will be under construction this summer, but the northern route construction won’t begin until next year.
The county budgeted $12 million for the road construction this year, but that won’t cover the total cost, according to Kanwar.
“Because of all the different projects, there will be a high demand for gravel,” Kanwar said. “It’s going to cause the cost to go up.”
Most of the funding for the county’s road construction will come from Energy Impact Grants the county has received, but Kanwar said, “It’s just not enough.”
Other funding will come from local taxes, but those amounts have not yet been figured.
Although McKenzie County is the number one oil-producing county in North Dakota, it only sees a small percentage of that money back - which is spent quickly and wisely where needed most, including reconstructing long-damaged roadways.
“We get back a minimal amount of money - barring that we get the brunt of the oil production,” Kanwar said.
“The county is also limited on what it can spend that money on.”
The county can only spend the allotted money on roads that are considered to be “County Major Collectors,” Kanwar explained. Some of the badly damaged county roads do not fall into that category and the county is going through a timely process to try and get them qualified to fix.
“The county should have more discretion on where the money is spent,” Kanwar said. “If we don’t get enough money to cover the road projects through the Impact Grants, then we will have to rely on local taxes, but that has not happened yet.”
After a meeting with North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple, Anderson was reassured that the state was “working hard to get money to McKenzie County so we wouldn’t lose 2015 as a construction year.”
Because the laws were changed in 1953, the county cannot charge property taxes. Therefore, the county would have to rely on gross production taxes and ask businesses to lobby in order to get a larger percentage of taxes back.
Governor Dalrymple met with many county, city and school representatives from around the state last week to get an idea of where everyone is at and if a special legislative session is needed this year. If so, it would be scheduled in early May.
Dalrymple also told Anderson he was willing to look at the formula, which is used to determine how much money the county receives.