FARGO-Researchers here hope to develop new ways to make roads and bridges in the region safer, and make them last longer, through a newly-awarded federal grant.

A five-state consortium headed by a research center at North Dakota State University will receive $2.5 million a year for the next five years to study methods of preserving and improving transportation infrastructure.

The consortium, led by NDSU's Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, has secured funding in every university competition run by the U.S. Department of Transportation since the program was established in 1988.

Tom Jirik, communications coordinator for the transportation institute, said winning the federal grant, in addition to the state funding it receives, gives researchers a stable base to work from.

"It's always kind of a big deal for us," he said.

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NDSU is one of eight universities in the Mountain-Plains Consortium to receive the funding.

The consortium covers North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, and encompasses 408,000 miles of public roads and nearly 25,000 bridges.

Most of the research will focus on transportation issues common to those states, Jirik said.

"They are wide-open states with not many people, and a lot of stuff goes through those states to the population centers," he said.

That fact, along with weather extremes, create a lot of wear and tear on the roads.

Safety challenges include heavy transport trucks and passenger cars sharing the same space.

In addition to improved safety, consortium members hope the research will lead to pavements and structures that last longer, making the best use of taxpayer dollars, Jirik said.

"North Dakota has spent a lot of money improving roads and bridges," he said, "and helping the state get the most out of its investment, that's a big goal."

Some areas of research could include new materials used to make bridges and using sensors to monitor bridge deterioration.

Jirik said the grant money should be in hand by the end of January, and then the eight universities will come up specific plans for the funds.

NDSU is expected to receive about $658,000 from the $2.5 million total in 2017, Jirik said.

The amount will vary from year to year, but typically the university will receive 26 to 30 percent of the total.

The grant is expected to provide partial support for the work of about 10 researchers and faculty, and about 20 graduate students at NDSU.