August 11, 2010

County scrambling to keep up with road repairs

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

The tremendous increase in oil field activity has been good for McKenzie County as it has created many jobs and brought new people to the community. But at the same time, the increase has also brought in a large amount of heavy truck traffic which has caused problems with many of county’s roads.
“It’s not unconceivable that I could spend $20 million just to resurface roads next year,” says Mike Greer, McKenzie County engineer. “I know that we won’t be able to put that much in the budget, but realistically that’s what it would take to get all of the roads back in shape.”
Although, the county is expecting added funds from the state’s oil and gas tax money, Greer is confident that it will not be enough to take care of all of the road issues in McKenzie County.
“The added funds that we are expecting won’t be enough to keep up with the rate of deterioration,” adds Greer. “The county is pursuing an increase in our percentage of funds that we receive from the state oil and gas tax to assist with road maintenance.”
According to Greer, the deterioration is caused by a combination of a wetter than normal spring and summer, an increase in the volume of high equivalent single axle loads and an infrastructure that is approaching or has passed its anticipated life expectancy.
“I’ve seen spots where it’s a little rough one day and you go by 10 days later and it’s completely blown up,” says Roger Chinn, McKenzie County commissioner. “We’re just going to have to prioritize as best we can.”
The county commissioners have asked Greer to prioritize road projects so they can get a better handle on exactly what will be needed for next year’s budget and to see what if any changes can be made to help alleviate some of the pressure on area roads.
“I think what we are going to have to do is put an 80,000-pound weight limit on some or all of our county roads,” states Chinn. “When this idea was first brought up I wasn’t fond of it. But we just can’t keep this old blacktop up against all of this weight.”
Many state roads have weight limits which are causing heavy trucks to travel more county roads than state.
“The state is kicking those trucks off their roads onto ours, but even if we put in a weight limit on our roads, the trucks will continue unless we have a scale in place to check them,” adds Greer. “But if we kick the trucks off the roads they are traveling now, they will just end up using another route because they have to get to the locations somehow.”
The commissioners know that whatever they decide to do, they will anger some companies.
“We don’t really have any solutions at this time,” says Dale Patten, McKenzie County commissioner. “Right now we need to work on damage control and plan for the future.”
Currently, damage control consists of patching and spot surfacing, introducing lower speed and weight limits on some routes, and planning some road stabilization.  The county has also increased law enforcement personnel and is considering additional increases, not only for protection of the roads, but for the overall safety of the traveling public.  
“We are planning a strategy for what improvements need to be done on various roads, estimating the costs associated with those improvements, and ultimately prioritizing the order that routes will be addressed over the next several years,” comments Greer. “The cost will be in the tens of millions, spread over several years.”
“For now, we are just going to have to grin and bear it,” says Rick Lawlar, McKenzie County commissioner. “We can’t stop the traffic or we will stop the oil.”