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Looking east along Highway 200/85 in McKenzie County west of Watford City, North Dakota. (Photo: Tim Evanson via Flickr)

North Dakota to sink $40M in highway beat up by oil traffic

BISMARCK, N.D. — Heavy oil truck traffic has prematurely beat up North Dakota’s northernmost U.S. highway, which was widened to four lanes between Williston and Minot in recent years, and officials say parts of it are in need of major repairs.

The 100-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 2, the last to be converted to four lanes in the state, was completed in 2008 at a cost of $124 million, with the federal government footing 80 percent of the bill.

It was to last more than two decades, yet North Dakota will spend $40 million this year to fix rutted, broken and cracked portions. It’s one of many projects tied to a spending bill that was rushed through the House and Senate with overwhelming support and signed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple in February so infrastructure projects could begin by summer.

Engineers couldn’t have known that the highway would eventually be overrun by the state’s oil boom, which was only in its infancy when the project was completed. Planners had predicted only 2,000 vehicles daily along the route but at least 11,000 have been using the highway each day since 2012, state Transportation Department engineer Steve Salwei said.

“A 450 percent increase, we did not plan for that,” Salwei said.

With the work slated to be done this summer, which includes replacing some portions of asphalt with sturdier but more costly concrete paving, the highway should be in good shape, he said.

“No one ever dreamed there would be so much traffic and the road would deteriorate so quickly,” said Ken Munson, the mayor of Ray, a town along U.S. Highway 2. “No one could have imagined anything like this.”

In related news, $16 million airport opens in southwestern North Dakota.

Residents of northwestern North Dakota had fought for the highway to be expanded to four lanes since the early 1970s, hoping it would attract more travelers and encourage businesses to move to the once economically depressed region.

State and federal transportation officials approved the upgrade just after the turn of the century, with the motto “Across the State in 2008.”

Republican Sen. John Hoeven, who was North Dakota’s governor at the time, helped push state bonding initiatives in anticipation of federal funding that eventually paid for the bulk of the project. That move allowed the project to be completed in about five years — about half the time it would have taken to wait for up-front federal funding.

“We built it sooner and saved a tremendous amount of money,” Hoeven said.

The four-lane project also increased safety in the region and likely saved many lives, Munson said.

The population of Ray, where much of the repair work will be done this summer, has doubled to more than 1,000 in the past few years because of increased oil activity. Convoys of oil trucks now rumble through the town, which could have opted for a bypass when the highway project was being planned, the mayor said.

“The talk of a bypass got shot down because people didn’t want to lose business,” Munson said. “In hindsight, it probably would have been a good thing to go around Ray. But who would have known?

This article was written by James Macpherson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.