North Dakota’s infrastructure to get $2.5-billion boost

 By Lisa Fattori

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Gov. Jack Dalrymple joined Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and other state and local officials in breaking ground on Patterson Heights Apartments, a new 24-unit affordable housing development in Dickinson.

A new initiative by Governor Jack Dalrymple will inject $2.5 billion into North Dakota’s infrastructure, helping communities both large and small to keep pace with the tremendous growth that has occurred since the onset of the Bakken oil boom. Announced on July 23rd, the new Roads and Infrastructure Initiative is awaiting approval by the Legislature and will take effect in the 2013-15 biennium. Everything, from schools and law enforcement enhancements to roadways and water treatment facilities, stand to benefit from the investment, providing the citizens of North Dakota with additional housing, new amenities and enhanced services.

Since Governor Jack Dalrymple first took office in December 2010, his administration has been very aggressive in addressing the infrastructure needs of the state, increasing the $609-million roads and highways budget to $1.376 billion for the 2011-13 biennium. The new $2.5-billion initiative for 2013-2015 once again almost doubles the funding in statewide infrastructure improvements, providing another $135 million in Energy Impact grants, including $25 million for schools, and $200 million for new school construction. The plan also calls for $1 billion for extraordinary highway and road maintenance projects and an additional $145 million for the County and Township Road Reconstruction program. Proposed changes to the Oil and Gas Production Tax formula will increase the local share of revenues for counties, cities and schools.

“North Dakota is experiencing remarkable growth, particularly in the state’s oil-producing region,” says Jeff Zent, spokesperson for Governor Dalrymple. “With rapid growth comes challenges and Governor Dalrymple is committed to helping communities throughout the state meet those challenges.”

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Construction on the Northwest Temporary Truck Bypass. Images courtesy: North Dakota Department of Transportation.

The same sense of urgency that fast-tracked projects in the last two years can be expected with this new initiative. In Williston, for example, a temporary by-pass on the west side of the city recently opened and talks are in the works for creating a permanent reliever road with an eastern route to follow. In August, three projects in Minot not only help the community rebound from flooding, but also provide much-needed amenities and services. Governor Dalrymple was on hand to assist in the groundbreaking ceremonies for a new Wellness Centre, a new middle school and a new multi-use complex that includes apartments, two hotels and a large retail centre.

“One of the funding sources that’s been very helpful is the Oil and Gas Impact Grant, which addresses infrastructure needs at the local level,” Zent says. “This can be used for everything from expanded sewer service, to new gear for firefighters. There is a need for additional housing and the Impact grant is being used to facilitate the construction of streets, sidewalks and sewer lines. When you have the basic infrastructure in place, it makes it much easier for developers to come in and build new housing.”

In North Dakota, the energy impact on roadways is significant. According to the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT), for every oil well drilled in the state, it takes 2,300 truckloads to bring the well into production. There are currently 6,470 oil producing wells in North Dakota, with a projected 33,000 more wells to be drilled in the next 15 years.

Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on the state highway system has increased from 7.4 billion in 2005 to 9.1 billion in 2011. Statewide, in 2011, North Dakota saw a 10 percent increase in VMT. From 2008 to 2011, approximately $635 million was invested in state highway projects, and an additional $305 million has funded improved state transportation infrastructure in Western North Dakota for 2012.

The strain on state roadways is reflected in the Roads and Infrastructure Initiative that earmarks $1 billion for the Enhanced Road and Highway Fund. These funds will finance extraordinary state highway projects, including truck reliever routes around cities, upgrading highways, constructing underpasses, and providing special assistance for townships. Proposed enhancements include converting U.S. 85 into a four-lane highway between Williston and Watford City. In addition to the new truck reliever route in Williston, similar projects are planned for Dickinson, New Town, Watford City, Alexander and Killdeer.

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Gov. Jack Dalrymple joined Sen. John Hoeven, congressman Rick Berg, Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman and other officials in breaking ground on Southgate Addition, a $109-million development in Minot that will include apartments, two hotels and a large retail center.

Other recent infrastructure improvements include water and sewer extensions, road enhancements, and public works improvements, to support future development of permanent housing in Williston, Dickinson and Minot. The new $2.5-billion Roads and Infrastructure Initiative will further the state’s goal of building the required infrastructure to meet the needs and enhance the quality of life of North Dakota’s growing population.

“We’ve been very blessed; but to get through this blessing, we need some help,” says Mayor of Williston Ward Koeser. “In the last five years, Williston’s population has grown from 12,500 to 22,000 and there are another 8,000 people living here temporarily. We need everything from new roads to daycare facilities. We are very excited and pleased with this new initiative to invest in infrastructure. It’s so reassuring to us that the government understands the issues and concerns of communities and is willing to address them.”

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