July 14, 2010

State, local leaders discuss infrastructure concerns

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Across western North Dakota, cities and counties are scrambling to come up with a way to meet growing housing needs as well as struggling to meet needed infrastructure improvements to handle growing traffic demand on state and county highway systems. In most cases, local government doesn’t have the resources to handle the problems associated with the increased growth as a result of the growing oil and gas industry. And to make matters worse, they have no idea of what the future holds in store for them in the way of continued growth.
That is why state leaders from the Bank of North Dakota, the Department of Commerce, the Office of Management and Budget, the North Dakota Housing Finance and the Department of Transportation spent two hours visiting with McKenzie County and Watford City elected officials last Wednesday as part of a tour of western North Dakota communities to outline programs that the state has available to them, as well as to discuss a new state study that would address housing, workforce, transportation concerns and a new technical assistance planning grant.
According to Shane Goettle, Department of Commerce commissioner, the state is in the process of developing a study so that the information can be presented to the North Dakota Legislature in January.
“Part of the study will examine the housing issues in six communities in western North Dakota, while other components of the study will address transportation and workforce concerns,” stated Goettle. 
The transportation study, which will include state and county road systems, will look at the road needs by counties and townships over the next 15-20 years to meet the growing energy impact.
“We will be identifying critical roadway segments that have experienced traffic changes and do roadway assessments as to the capacity of these roadways to handle the traffic that they are experiencing,” stated Denver Tolliver, associate director of the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute. “We will also be forecasting future growth trends and population shifts, as well as forecasting what kind of roadway system that will be needed and what type of roadway surfaces will be warranted.”
Both the state and the county road systems have been taking a beating this spring and summer as a result of the increased traffic associated with moving oil rigs and other associatetd oilfield traffic.
“We are pouring a lot of money into oil country to take care of some of the pressure that we are seeing with deteriorating roads,” stated Francis Ziegler, DOT chief. “Highways 23 and 73 were literally destroyed this spring before we could do the overlays and now we are in the process of redoing both of those highways.”
According to Ziegler, the DOT lifted spring load restrictions earlier than normal this year to accommodate the oilfield traffic needs and the roadways simply couldn’t handle the truck weights at that time.
But according to Dale Patten, McKenzie County commissioner, the state highways aren’t the only roadways being impacted.
“We’re experiencing one rig move a day on our county roads,” stated Patten. “We’ve spent the last 30 years building up our road system and now after one rig move following a two inch rain, the road is destroyed. How do you divert county resources to keep up with the repairs?”
As part of the housing needs study, Goettle indicated that the state is inviting Watford City, Williston, Stanley, New Town, Parshall and Tioga to become part of the study process.
The study, which will be conducted by Minot State University, will address what is sustainable future housing needs for permanent and temporary housing.
The third component of the state study will address the workforce needs in western North Dakota.
“We have picked 77 companies to help us identify the temporary and permanent employment that they are projecting in the oilfield,” stated Goettle. “We want to know the level of skills that these employees must have and where these companies are projecting that they will be living on a permanent and temporary basis.”
“Once we have all of this information from these studies compiled we will use it when the Legislature meets,” states Goettle. “The oil and gas development is welcomed. It’s a boost to the the state and local economies. But we need to establish projects, determine the cost of the projects and then prioritize them.”