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Counties organizing in wake of November session

Published: Oct. 5, 2021 at 5:38 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - There’s a $2 billion gap in infrastructure needs, according to North Dakota infrastructure leaders.

While the state Legislature prepares to assign the more than billion dollars from Washington, D.C., North Dakota counties have already received millions directly from the fed. But the rules keep changing on what can be spent, and that’s causing confusion and concern for local road projects.

County leaders said it’s like the rules become clearer every week. The counties have until 2024 to assign the COVID funds, but they have needs right now.

As the rules on spending becomes more clear, there are fewer projects that qualify. During the last legislative session, state lawmakers has less of an urge to invest state dollars into road construction, because they knew there was money coming from federal COVID relief packages.

“During the legislative session, we were in a very uncertain time. The interim guidance hadn’t even been issued yet. So, we didn’t even know what we were contemplating,” said Terry Traynor, North Dakota Association of Counties executive director.

Many road and bridge projects are funded by the gas tax, but COVID brought down travel and thus revenues from that gas tax went down.

That left already small counties with even fewer funds for construction. So now those counties are going to state lawmakers asking for a good portion of the ARPA funds.

“Stick with it. Stay with it. You deserve to have the most money that we can give you and the most projects that you can have, because you’re doing the exact same mission in the transportation space that we are,” said Transportation Director Bill Panos.

This year alone, North Dakota has seen 183 road projects with a total of $356 million. Panos added that he believes the state is only at half of its construction capacity, and said the state has 18 months’ worth of bidding they can do once the legislature gavels out in November.

As part of the push for infrastructure, the DOT has also launched a series of bridge inspections. According to Panos, there are 6,000 bridges in the state that require some form of fixing.

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