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Look for changes on state roads

By Staff | Feb 17, 2017

Here’s another way that the state’s budget troubles will affect ordinary North Dakotans:

The Department of Transportation budget proposes closing eight maintenance shops and nine driver’s license sites. Four highway rest areas were closed in 2016. Another will close May 31.

The maintenance shops are at Starkweather, Finley, Fessenden, Gackle, Litchville, New England, Courtenay and Mayville. Closing them will save $1.4 million and cut five jobs.

The impact “is a higher level of service for higher tier corridors,” the department said in its prepared testimony. That means busier highways.

The testimony said, “Service in areas that are impacted by the optimization could change. For example, it may take 30 minutes longer to clear roads in the Gackle area” in south central North Dakota.

The proposed closings have drawn concern at legislative forums in his district, Sen. Larry Robinson of Valley City said. Two of the eight shops set to close serve areas in his district.

Most of the concern is about snow removal, he said, and some is about loss of local jobs.

Sen. Gary Lee chairs the Transportation Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He’s from Casselton. He suggested that the cuts shouldn’t have a significant impact because snow removal equipment is much more efficient than in was in the late 1960s, when most of the shops were built. “They’re not using single-axle trucks anymore,” he said.

The Transportation Department said in testimony that if the shops are closed, the property will be offered for sale.

Lee said he expects amendments to be offered to save some of the shops. The bill, with or without amendments, could reach the floor of the Senate this week.

The driver’s licenses sites that would close are in Carrington, Crosby, Mayville, Carson, Langdon, Lisbon, Wishek, Rugby and Rolla. All of these are satellites of other sites and none are open full time. This would save $160,293.

Usage at the sites varies with opening hours. Rolla issued the most licenses last year, 1,600 compared with only 68 for the least busy site, Crosby. Rolla is open two days a month; Crosby only one day every other month.

Rest areas that have been closed are named Norwich, Finnish, Germantown and Sykeston. The Pleasant Lake rest area on U.S. Highway 2 about 10 miles east of Rugby is set to close May 31.

Overall, the Department of Transportation budget proposes a cut from $2.7 billion in the 2015 biennium to just under $1.3 billion in 2017. That’s because the 2015 budget contained an extensive road-building program funded by oil taxes.

The biennium for the 2017 biennium doesn’t use any money from oil taxes or from the general fund. Instead, it is funded 47 percent from the highway tax distribution fund mostly taxes on fuels and 53 percent from federal funds.

Employment in the department will be cut from 1,080 jobs to 1,054, the same level as in 2009.

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