June 19, 2013

Damaged roads will cost county $50 million

By Zach Stenberg
Farmer Intern

With unprecedented growth happening and McKenzie County’s infrastructure being stretched further and further, Mother Nature complicated things even more when in the last two weeks she dropped roughly nine inches of rain on the county, crippling its roads and causing millions of dollars in damages.
As a result of the rains and heavy oil field traffic, the county now estimates that around 500 miles of county roads will need resurfacing.
With so much heavy truck traffic on the county roads in the latest oil boom, McKenzie County has exhausted most of its gravel resources and is now having to truck in gravel from other areas.
Consequently, the county road department has had to get into the business of contracting much of this work to outside firms.
Five years ago, it cost McKenzie County around $30,000 to resurface one mile of county road. Now it costs around $115,000 for a mile of county road, according to Mike Dollinger, Engineering Assistant for McKenzie County.
“We have around $5 million and that will go toward resurfacing about 40 miles of county roads,” says Dollinger. “The county roads were not designed for heavy truck traffic. Until we get the money from somewhere else and can put down four to five inches of gravel on the county roads, we’re not going to be able to maintain the roads where there is heavy truck traffic.”
With constant rains and heavy traffic, the gravel is being pushed off the roadway. Ruts get bigger and deeper, and in the last heavy rains, some of the roads even became impassable.
“Any extended period of slow rain with a high volume of heavy truck traffic is devastating to the county gravel roads,” says Mark Koeser, County Road superintendent.
During the rains, many oil companies began to order scoria and aggregate to their sites and the heavy loads wreaked havoc on the muddy roads.
The county’s road crews were working until 9 p.m. or dark during the rains, but are still around two weeks behind.
“Some oil companies have helped in some areas, which was greatly appreciated,” says Koeser. “We’ve been hiring contractors and we’ve been grading as well.”
McKenzie County Commissioner Ron Anderson compliments Whiting Petroleum for pulling its trucks when roads were getting worse.
“We just don’t have the money to resurface all the roads,” states Anderson. “We’re just not getting enough money from Bismarck, and we’re going to have to make do with the money we have for the next two years.”
Moving forward, everyone now has a close eye on future rains.
“We can’t just say if it rains a half inch, then we’ll shut the roads down,” says Anderson. “But if it calls for 80 percent chance of rain for two days and starts raining in the morning, and is still raining at noon, then we’ll close the roads with a 20,000 pound weight limit.”
If the rains come again, the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Dept. will be enforcing the shutdown of heavy trucks on county roads.
With the county road crew and contractors’ efforts, the county roads are now about two weeks away from where Koeser wants them to be.
Before the rains, the application of magnesium-chloride to help keep  the dust down was behind schedule. Now with the roads drying out and getting harder, dust is going to be the next big issue.
One thing is for certain - the oil boom is going to continue, there will be heavy truck traffic in McKenzie County and the gravel roads will  continue to take a beating.
“Oil companies need to start policing themselves by pulling their trucks off the road when we get extended adverse weather. And they need to repair the roads that they damage,” states Koeser. “Until then, we’ll never be able to keep up with the maintenance on the roads where there is heavy truck traffic.”