Near Record Levels of Construction Mark North Dakota DOT's 100th Anniversary
Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) is coming off one of the largest construction periods in its history. That momentum is continuing in 2017, with approximately 200 projects planned throughout the state, and $465 million of that planned work taking place on highways.
Originally called the State Highway Department when it was established in 1917, NDDOT serves a state, which despite its small population, has a transportation system with more miles of road per capita than any other state in the United States. North Dakota also has more registered vehicles than residents, and has seen steady increases in traffic over the past several years. In a two-year period from 2010 to 2012, the state had a 22 percent increase in traffic statewide and a 53 percent increase in its oil producing counties. North Dakota is now the second-leading oil producing state in the nation following Texas. Oil production in the state began in late 2008 and has grown to the current level of production in excess of 1 million barrels of oil per day.
Leading the Department
North Dakota's transportation system, which consists of approximately 8,500 miles of roadway and over 4,850 bridges, is managed by the second smallest Department of Transportation in the country. Governor Doug Burgum appointed Grant Levi to the position of Director in December 2016. Levi had served as the NDDOT's Deputy Director for Engineering since 1999, overseeing several programs including operations, transportation, project development, planning, pre-construction, construction and maintenance. He has worked for the NDDOT since 1980, holding positions in the Valley City District, the Fargo District and at the Central Office in Bismarck.
A native of Zeeland, in south-central North Dakota, Levi is a Certified Professional Engineer trained in planning, programming and pre-construction management. Reviewing the near-record level of NDDOT projects in 2016, he comments, "We had a lot of work taking place and completed some significant projects this year. This type of investment in the state's transportation system helps to enhance safety and traffic movement for motorists across North Dakota. We're seeing continuing growth in transportation, so there are an awful lot of challenges ahead of all of us in the transportation business in the cities, counties and state."
For his department, highway safety is at least as important as highway improvement, Levi states. In 2016, 113 people lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes in North Dakota, a decrease of 13 percent (17 fatalities) from 2015, per NDOT data. This is the lowest number of motor vehicle fatalities in North Dakota since 2010.
"It is encouraging to see the decrease in motor vehicle fatalities," says Levi. "While progress is being made through roadway improvements, traffic safety education and enforcement programs, we still have much work to do because the loss of one life is one too many."
Major Past Projects
Major NDDOT road construction projects for 2016 included the Killdeer Bypass (a two-lane truck bypass, with two roundabouts) on the west side of the town of Killdeer; Dickinson State Avenue Railroad Bridge; Dickinson Bypass; North Washington Street in Bismarck; U.S. 83 north of Minot; Carrington Roundabout and reconstruction work on U.S. 52; West Fargo Main Avenue; and I-29 work north of Fargo. Department crews also completed roughly 1,450 miles of maintenance projects on state highways.
Approximately $409 million was allotted by the state for the construction of truck bypass routes for the western North Dakota cities of Williston, Watford City, Dickinson, New Town and Alexander. Comments Levi, "One of the things we said was very important when we came in seeking funds was that we need to take the trucks out of the communities to restore and maintain quality of life in those communities," said Levi.
The oil "boom" has impacted North Dakota in many ways including an influx of population statewide - but primarily in the northwest where the bulk of oil is being produced. This part of the state has seen a significant increase in commercial and non-commercial vehicle traffic, but also, unfortunately, an increase in motor vehicle fatalities.
Contracting with Federal Funding
Operating on a biennial budget, NDDOT's 2016 construction program totaled around $680 million; while the department's construction budget is expected to decrease in the next few years, federal funding is projected to rise as a result of the FAST Act. One high-profile project to benefit from federal funding is the West Fargo Main Avenue Reconstruction project, with 80 percent of its funding coming from the federal level. This project was designed to address increasing traffic volumes in the area, and included improvements along 4 miles of the roadway. Reconstruction efforts began in 2009 and finished in late 2016, with 2015 and 2016 work making up the third and final phases of the plan. Project costs of the seven-year plan totaled nearly $61 million.
"It took some time to complete all three phases of reconstruction of Main Avenue," says Levi. "But we have now finished a project that will enhance traffic safety and corridor aesthetics, and we have a roadway that will last a long time and require minimal maintenance."
At the ceremony commemorating the completion of the project, West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern commented, "We started planning for this improvement project more than 10 years ago and since then we've seen our city grow tremendously. Now this updated stretch meets urban standards and should increase economic growth by providing direct business access."
The three phases of the project completely reconstructed Main Avenue between I-94 and 45th Street, converting the old rural sections into a safer infrastructure system. A 2001 planning study had pointed out safety and infrastructure issues and identified specific project needs. Overall improvements from the completed Main Avenue project phases include additional lanes to improve traffic flow; new driving surfaces throughout the entire project; larger intersection areas for increased traffic counts; removal of a frontage road system that often caused conflict and congestion; and improved drainage and underground utilities.
Another high priority project is the conversion of U.S. Highway 85 into a four-lane from Watford City to I-94 at Williston. The first phase of the U.S. 85 Four Lane Project was completed in 2014, and encompassed the section between Watford City to north of Alexander. Phases two and three were completed in 2015, and included the roadway beginning at County Road 16 as well as additional segments from north of Alexander to Williston.
Among the major NDDOT projects set for 2017 are: I-94 through Bismarck/Mandan; ND Highway 20 in Devils Lake; ND 1804 from Williston to Epping; and U.S. Highway 83 bridges over the Mouse River in Minot.
Crews recently started roadwork on the I-94 project in Bismarck. The 5-mile-long project begins west of the Grant Marsh Bridge and continues east of Exit 161 (Bismarck Expressway). Work will consist of concrete pavement repair, asphalt overlays and bridge work. About 36,000 vehicles pass through the area daily. The interstate will remain open to traffic, although with lane closures and speed reductions, throughout the project, which is expected to be completed in the fall.
NDDOT is working with the Federal Highway Administration and the city of Minot to replace the existing U.S. 83 Broadway Bridges in the heart of Minot. In preparation for planned 2017-2018 construction, the environmental documentation and design work is already underway. This project is important to residents in Minot and travelers in north central North Dakota, since the five-lane urban roadway carries approximately 30,000 vehicles per day. The two-lane southbound bridge was built in 1962; the northbound bridge was added in 1971. These bridges remain safe for drivers, but are nearing the end of their estimated life expectancy.