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It's not the first oil boom to hit North Dakota, but it's undoubtedly the biggest. North Dakota has quickly become one of the largest oil-producing states in the country. The Bakken has brought thousands of people to North Dakota and billions of dollars in state revenue. But it's also brought its share of headaches for those living in oil country. Home construction can't keep up with the rapid growth in population. Crimes, accidents and arrests are at an all-time high in western North Dakota. Small cities that were once off the grid are making national headlines as they face challenges they've never had to deal with before.
Clip: Trucks Rush through Oil Country
The lack of infrastructure isn’t just affecting home construction. Roads are also taking a beating. Drivers in western North Dakota have less elbow room than they used to.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation estimates that nearly 9,000 semis drive through Williston every day. That's more than 25,000 semis a month.
The roads in western North Dakota weren't built to handle such heavy loads so both counties and cities alike are struggling to main them.
Monte Meiers and Dennis Nelson are two of the busiest people in the oil patch. Both oversee the roads in the region, and they say they never saw this level of stress coming.
"I had no idea that we'd be in this kind of a situation. Not at all. It’s just loads. Continuous loads. Not necessarily heavy, but yes that has something to do with it. All of it in general. It's just so much traffic. And the structure that's been here for years had no intention of taking this kind of pressure," said Dennis Nelson, superintendent of Williams County Highway.
Residents living in oil country often joke that driving the roads here is like driving in a big city.
"I call it the X games out here. You have to drive a little defensive and then a little aggressive to get around," said Monte Meiers, director of Williston Public Works.
Both Williams County and Williston often put a band-aid on the problem through continuous repair and patch work. Last year the county spent an additional $2-million on road maintenance, and the city spent an additional $1.4-million.
"It's a little discouraging when they blade a 10-mile stretch of gravel road and at the end of the day they park their machine and they can wipe their hands and say wow, it really looks good. The next morning they come out and it looks like they've never done it before. There's just a lot of impact, a lot of traffic, it's just hard to keep up with everything," Nelson said.
"I don't know where we put them. I would say though we're going to struggle for three, four, five years yet. I'm not sure what we do or how we keep the road in shape either," Meiers said.
The DOT has been stepping in with solutions. One of the big projects this summer was repaving and adding passing lanes to Highway 85 between Williston and Watford City. The DOT allocated $142-million for county roads and $228-million for oil impacted state highways.
They're also working on a truck-reliever route that would bypass the city of Williston, relieving some pressure off the city streets.
"We're all moving at a pace as quickly as we can in order to get some relief for Highway 2 & 85 bypass route through town and allow the DOT to make some minor improvements next year to the intersections that need to be done," said Rick Lane, principal of SRF Consulting Group for the DOT.
But unless the rig count drops, allowing the truck traffic to subside, both Nelson and Meiers predict the job will continue to be overwhelming.
"I used to always like to try to get everything done that I thought I needed to get done. That doesn't happen anymore. I just realize I'm not going to get everything done. I still enjoy the challenge. There are certain days you say, maybe that needs to end," Meiers said.
Counties and cities alike are hoping to get more state funding to help with infrastructure during this next legislative session.