Friday, March 27, 2015

Road Funding Criteria Forces Counties to Re-Prioritize Projects

The passage of the “Surge” funding bill is a demonstration of the wisdom of the 64th Legislative Assembly to create an outstanding investment in the future of western North Dakota and the entire state. But SB 2103’s $1.1 billion has several “strings” attached. Set forth in the bill is a list of criteria for use of the funding. The restrictions apply only to counties. While North Dakota counties are grateful for the one-time funding, they are concerned with the restrictions on how the “Surge” dollars can be used.

DOT Meeting with Counties on SB 2103
The Department of Transportation has responded quickly to the finalization of SB 2103. They have organized and held four regional meetings around the state in the last few weeks to provide an overview of the criteria for use of the funds provided through that piece of legislation. There has been overwhelming response by the counties at these meetings who have showed up with shovel-ready projects. Each county presents their project(s) to DOT officials and fellow county officials. The group then gives each project a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down.” Here is a list of the criteria county road projects must meet:
Walsh County presents projects for consideration at DOT meeting
-         Roadways and bridges must provide continuity and connectivity to efficiently integrate and improve major paved and unpaved corridors within the county and across county borders.
-         Projects must be consistent with the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute’s estimated road and bridge investment needs for the years 2015 to 2034 and other planning studies.
-         Upon completion of a major roadway construction or reconstruction project, the roadway must be posted at a legal load limit of 105,500 pounds.
-         Design speed on the roadway must be at least 55 miles per hour, unless the DOT provides an exemption.
-         Bridges must be designed to meet an HL 93 loading.
Probably the restriction that is most discouraging to county folks is that roads must provide connectivity and continuity.  Several county engineers and county commissioners say this will prevent them from tackling their highest priority roads because they do not meet the strict interpretation of SB 2103.

Greater Flexibility Needed in Future Transportation Funding
Counties will be asking for greater flexibility as the discussion turns to the next major road funding bill, HB 1176. The bill includes a formula change for the Gross Production Tax and $112 million for non-oil counties. As it stands currently, HB 1176 includes identical language in regards to the criteria for use of funds. Unless it is amended, counties will experience the same degree of limitation.
“In the interest of balance, we would prefer HB 1176 to go out to counties with fewer restrictions. This would give counties greater flexibility to address the needs as identified by the local people,” says North Dakota Association of Counties Executive Director Mark Johnson. “Without this correction, the use of this tremendous resource will be dictated and only to the counties. Counties will be completing projects that may be further down on their priority list because of the funding restrictions.”    
HB 1176 will be heard March 30th in the Senate Appropriations Committee. NDACo will be advising committee members on the importance of allowing counties greater flexibility with the road funding.

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