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NDDOT puts off 2-lane highway safety project after farmer complaints

The state will remove some recently installed reflective metal posts on two-lane state highways after farming groups said they were impeding their ability to transport large equipment.

Looking down the center line of a two-lane highway in North Dakota with reflective posts on either side
A two-lane highway in North Dakota is shown with reflective posts on either side. The posts are meant to serve as an additional visual cue for drivers, especially at night. Farmers say the posts make it difficult to maneuver large vehicles and equipment.
North Dakota Department of Transportation
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BISMARCK — New safety measures along two-lane highways in North Dakota will be delayed after farmers complained they impeded their ability to transport equipment and actually made the roads less safe.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation has stopped installing delineators, or reflective metal posts, in order to come up with a design change that will accommodate wider equipment on those highways.

Sen. Janne Myrdal, a Republican lawmaker and farmer from Edinburg, said she started hearing from fellow farmers in northeastern North Dakota a few weeks ago when combines and beet pickers began hitting the roads for harvest.

“It was almost like civil unrest up here, to be honest with you,” Myrdal said.

Drivers of a combine and other vehicles try to maneuver around metal posts along a two-lane state highway
The driver of a combine tries to maneuver around metal reflective posts along a two-lane state highway in northeastern North Dakota while other drivers attempt to get out of the way.
Contributed

NDDOT announced in March it would install the reflective posts along 50% of state highways, including more than 300 miles of highway within tribal boundaries.

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The $4.2 million project would be paid for primarily with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a federal stimulus bill following the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s not known yet how these design changes will affect the cost of the project, NDDOT said.

The posts are already in place on all four-lane highways in the state and on the entire interstate highway system.

“It’s not uncommon to pause, reassess and implement design changes when new information becomes available,” said outgoing NDDOT Director Bill Panos, in a statement before leaving the position. “We are committed to making highways safe for all users.”

As part of the state’s Vision Zero plan to reduce deadly and serious injury crashes, the aim of the reflective posts is to guide and provide additional visual cues to drivers, especially at night.

A semi hauls farm machinery down a two-lane highway, with a reflective metal post in the foreground
A semi hauls farm machinery down a two-lane highway in North Dakota, with a reflective metal post in the foreground. NDDOT is removing some of them following complaints from farmers, who said they impede their ability to move large farm equipment.
North Dakota Department of Transportation

Research has shown that on rural two-lane roadways, crashes resulting from drivers leaving their lane are reduced on average 15% after delineators are installed, NDDOT said.

But farmers in northeastern North Dakota said when driving large machinery, they are forced to weave back and forth to avoid the posts and other vehicles.

They brought their concerns to Myrdal, who said she alerted Gov. Doug Burgum’s office, NDDOT, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and other state lawmakers.

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“Maybe in some areas they're great, but they're just plain dangerous and impractical in agricultural sections of the state,” Myrdal said.

Agriculture groups also got involved, including the North Dakota Farmers Union and the North Dakota Farm Bureau, she said.

“After a great deal of consideration, I believe we came up with a solution that provides safety measures for the motoring public on our main roads without compromising the safe operation of equipment on North Dakota highways,” Goehring said in a statement.

NDDOT spokesman David Finley said the focus now will be on ensuring at least a 28-foot clearance between a highway’s centerline and a delineator post, to accommodate wider equipment.

Two-lane highway in a rural setting in North Dakota with a pickup traveling along
A two-lane highway is pictured in North Dakota with reflective metal posts on either side, meant to serve as a visual guide to drivers at night. The state Department of Transportation will remove some of the posts after receiving complaints from farmers that they impeded their ability to transport large equipment.
North Dakota Department of Transportation

Not all situations allow for 28-foot clearance, he said, so the posts in areas with less than that will be removed and reused as replacements for posts along interstates that are damaged.

The design change in the works could involve collapsible delineators, but Finley said it’s too soon to say for certain.

Asked whether the agriculture community was consulted prior to the project, Finley said not specifically, however NDDOT invited more than 2,000 diverse stakeholders for input in development of the plan, of which more than 200 participated.

The project is expected to continue next spring with a new design, Finley said.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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