BISMARCK – Mild spring weather has set road construction in motion earlier than usual in North Dakota, and more money will be spent on highways and bridges than last year despite recent budget cuts to the state Department of Transportation.
The department has $680 million in work planned for this construction season, up from $615 million last year, spokeswoman Jamie Olson said Monday.
While the orange cones won't be as widespread as in 2013 and 2014, which each saw about $820 million in work, "It's still a pretty big construction program," she said.
"Now that some of those roadways have been built up in the western part of the state, it's kind of going back and doing overlays and additional work on some of the other roadways," she said.
Crews will finish some major multiyear projects this year, including the Lewis and Clark Bridge at Williston, bypasses in Dickinson and Killdeer and a segment of Main Avenue in West Fargo.
The Department of Transportation will release its complete 2016 construction schedule next month, but work on several projects has already commenced. Construction began April 4 to replace the driving surface of the State Highway 11 bridge over Interstate 29 near Hankinson, and work on the Grant Marsh Bridge on I-94 between Bismarck and Mandan also will start this month, causing lane closures with reduced speeds.
"A lot of them have gotten started already. The weather kind of eased up a little earlier than usual," Olson said.
State lawmakers approved $991 million in one-time funding last year for road projects during the 2015-17 biennium. But budget cuts ordered in February to help balance a projected $1.07 billion revenue shortfall reduced that amount by nearly $22 million. The DOT also cut funding for road projects in non-oil-producing counties by $4.5 million to cover its $26.6 million share of the budget cuts.
The DOT also announced in February that it would close five of the state's 28 rest areas, hold 20 full-time jobs open and cut back on temporary employees to help balance a projected $69.2 million shortfall in transportation user revenues.
Olson said the department has decided to keep the Pleasant Lake rest area on U.S. 2 east of Rugby open at least through the summer months after some minor changes to meet ADA requirements. Officials will then re-evaluate its future.
The number of temporary DOT employees has dropped from about 85 to 60 since February, though spokeswoman Peggy Anderson said it's difficult to say how many were let go as a result of the cutbacks because some were seasonal workers or employees hired for a specific project.
Anderson said the department's revised revenue projections are proving accurate so far.
"So we feel that the budget reductions that we made will be sufficient to help us make it through the biennium," she said.
Following is a list of projects bid by the North Dakota Department of Transportation for this construction season:
-- Reconstruction and widening of N.D. 200 from the junction of U.S. 85 to N.D. 22 at Killdeer;
-- Reconstruction and widening of N.D. 23 from the junction of N.D. 28 near Ryder to U.S. 83;
-- Reconstruction of westbound I-94 from 11 miles east of Montana state line to the Missouri River;
-- Reconstruction and widening of N.D. 49 from the Mercer County/Morton County line to Beulah;
-- Paving, widening, and installation of a roundabout on U.S. 52 from the junction of N.D. 200 east to Carrington;
-- Reconstruction of southbound I-29 from Argusville to the Hunter separation;
-- Reconstruction of 12th Avenue North in Fargo, West Fargo and Cass County from County Road 9 to 45th Street;
-- Reconstruction and widening of N.D. 58 from the junction of N.D. 200 near Fairview to State Highway 1804;
-- Construction of the Dickinson northwest permanent bypass;
-- Reconstruction of North Washington Street from Calgary Avenue to 57th Avenue in Bismarck;
-- Paving and widening on N.D. 3 from the junction of State Highway 34 north to Dawson;
-- Reconstruction and widening of U.S. 85B in Watford City from the junction of N.D. 23 to north of State Highway 23A;
-- Paving and widening on N.D. 30 from the junction of N.D. 15 north to Maddock.
Source: Jamie Olson, NDDOT