BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- A longtime Department of Transportation engineer who rose through the agency's ranks over the past 30 years is most qualified to lead the state in dealing with unprecedented demands on North Dakota's roads and other infrastructure, Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Wednesday.
"Grant Levi has a perfect resume for the job," Dalrymple said in announcing Levi's appointment at the state Capitol. "His depth of knowledge is a tremendous asset for North Dakota."
Levi, 53, succeeds Francis Ziegler, who retired last November after working for the department for 42 years, the last six as director.
Levi has worked for the Transportation Department since 1980, after graduating from North Dakota State University with a civil engineering degree, state officials said. His jobs at the agency have included deputy director for engineering, where he directed construction and maintenance programs and oversaw the state's eight districts. Levi also served as interim DOT director prior to Ziegler's appointment in 2006 and after Ziegler retired last year.
The Transportation Department is one of the state's largest agencies. It has about 1,100 employees and a budget over the next two years of more than $2.8 billion. Levi will be paid $145,000 annually.
Dalrymple said the agency's budget has more than quadrupled in the past six years largely due to the explosion of oil development — and tax revenue — from western North Dakota's oil-producing region. The two-year budget that begins in July includes $2.3 billion for road improvements statewide — $1.5 billion of which is slated for the oil patch.
Levi said the agency's priority is to "safely move people and goods across the state." Among the projects that top the state's list is a proposal is to make U.S. Highway 85 in western North Dakota a four-lane road between Williston and Watford City, as well as six bypass projects that will route traffic around oil patch communities.
Prioritizing projects depends on someone's point of view, Levi said.
"Every project, when it's in your backyard, is the highest priority," he said.
Ziegler said Levi is well-suited for the job. Both men are from Zeeland in south-central North Dakota. Farms where the two men lived are just more than a mile apart, Ziegler said.
"He's a marvelous young man and engineer," Ziegler said.
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