Posted 6/22/11 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
County roads in McKenzie County have been taking a severe beating due to increased oilfield traffic over the past several years. And fixing the main roads that serve the oilfield’s needs, as well as county residents, is going to come with a big price tag.
A price tag of $24 million, to be exact, to gravel 122 miles and pave an additional 12½ miles of county roads.
“We will be opening bids on five major road graveling projects, that will include 122 miles of work on 11 county roads, on July 6,” states Mike Greer, McKenzie County engineer. “That is a ton of graveling so we don’t expect to get it all done this summer.”
According to Greer, county roads that will see graveling over the next two years will be routes 5, 15, 17, 18, 29, 30, 31, 34, 35, 37 and 32nd Street.
“We’re talking about 350 tons of gravel,” states Greer. “This is the largest graveling project the county has ever undertaken. We’ve never had so many miles of projects in so many different areas of the county.”
To handle so many projects, the county will be enlisting the services of one or more engineering firms to do all of the project management and supervision. In addition, according to Greer, the county has broken the roadwork into several sections in hopes that more contractors will be interested in bidding on the jobs.
According to Greer, the county hopes that the bids will come in the $4.5 million range for the gravel work.
“We’re estimating that the graveling projects will come in around that figure,” states Greer. “Maybe we’re estimating too high, but then again, our estimate could be low. We just really have no idea until the bids are opened.”
Of the $4.5 million estimate, the county will have to come up with 75 percent, or nearly $3.4 million, to cover their share of the project cost.
The most spendy project by far will be the paving of county roads 10 and 16.
According to Greer, the price tag for bringing just county road 10 up to highway standards is estimated between $15 to $18 million.
“We hope to have the design for both of these roads done, and ready for a fall bid opening,” states Greer. “We will do county road 10 first, and if we have any money left over, we will start on county road 16.”
To meet state highway standards, the county roads will be widened to a 28-foot paved roadway with shoulders and have a load limit of 105,500 pounds.
While the price tag of up to $18 million just to pave 12½ miles of county roads would cause sticker shock to many, Greer points out that the county’s share of the project will only be 10 percent, with the balance of the funding coming from the state.
“The county roads that we are going to be graveling are all oil-impacted routes,” states Greer. “And as such, they qualify for funding under legislation that allotted $124 million to county road projects within the 17 oil-impacted counties.”
“32nd Street, which runs north of Taylor Ag Service on the east side of Watford City, is absolutely the worst road in the county,” states Greer. “The shear volume of oilfield traffic on that county road, as well as all of the moisture that we have received, has completely destroyed the roadway.”
While 32nd Street may be the county’s poster child for devastated roadways, it is by no means the only road that has been cratered with potholes and blown out sections of roadway because of increased traffic loads.
“All of the other roads that we’re including in the bid for graveling are in bad shape,” states Greer. “They are all used extensively by the oilfield.”
But the county could very well be seeing just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cost of maintaining its road system in light of the increased oil development.
“These roads, that we are bidding out for graveling over the next two years, represent just 10 percent of the county’s gravel road system,” states Greer. “This is just the beginning for us when it comes to roads that are going to need to be regraveled because of the increased use by oilfield traffic. We know that there are going to be other roads that are going to need work as well. But with no end in sight of continued traffic on these 11 roads, we could be back fixing them again in two years.”
Over the next two years, McKenzie County will spend over $9 million to gravel roads in the county.
But Greer looks at the expenditure as a good investment in the county’s infrastructure.
“We going to spend a lot of money,” states Greer. “But it’s an investment in our infrastructure that we have to make. We’ve got too much money invested in our current road system to let it fall apart.”