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Study: $7B bill for ND road upkeep over 20 years

Denver Tolliver, director of the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D., speaks on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, to a meeting of members of the North Dakota House and Senate appropriations committees in the North Dakota Senate chamber in the state Capitol in Bismarck, N.D. Tolliver was presenting an institute report that estimates North Dakota's county and township roads will need almost $7 billion for construction and upkeep in the next 20 years, much of which is needed because of truck traffic tied to western North Dakota's booming oil industry. (AP Photo/Dale Wetzel)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's county and township roads, which have been pounded by truck traffic amid a flourishing state economy, will cost $7 billion to maintain over the next two decades, a new study estimates.

The survey, done by the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University, says $834 million is needed during the next two years alone. About two-thirds of that should be used in western North Dakota's booming oil-producing region, the study says.

It was presented Thursday to the North Dakota Legislature's Budget Section, a committee that includes legislative leaders and lawmakers who will be writing the state's next two-year budget when the Legislature begins its next session in January.

It shows that legislators will have plenty of spending demands on the state's oil-driven budget surplus, which is expected to reach $1.6 billion by June.

In 2010, the institute did a similar survey of county and township road construction and repair needs. It recommended spending $654 million on road upkeep during the following two years, including $356 million for roads in North Dakota's oil region. Lawmakers responded by boosting spending on the state's road network.

Denver Tolliver, the transportation institute's director, attributed the 28 percent rise in recommended support for roads in the last two years to skyrocketing construction costs and an 80 percent increase in the number of oil wells that state regulators expect will be drilled in western North Dakota.

North Dakota had about 7,300 producing oil wells in July, according to the state Department of Mineral Resources. The agency has upped the number of wells it expects to be drilled in the next two decades from 21,000 to about 46,000, Tolliver said.

"There have been some very significant changes since we did the (earlier) studies," Tolliver said.

The study was limited to county and township roads, and did not include state-maintained highways, North Dakota's two interstates or the cost of maintaining bridges. Lawmakers on Thursday asked for an analysis of bridge construction and maintenance expenses, which Tolliver said could be done by year's end.

The road repairs made necessary by North Dakota's economic growth, particularly its increase in oil production, have been a prominent issue in the fall campaign for governor.

Incumbent Republican Jack Dalrymple has proposed greatly increased state spending on roads. In his budget recommendations to the Legislature two years ago, he requested $142 million for county and township roads in North Dakota's oil country, a sum the GOP-controlled Legislature approved.

His Democratic opponent, state Sen. Ryan Taylor, D-Towner, has said the Legislature's aid efforts have been insufficient. Taylor is the Senate's Democratic leader and a member of the committee that listened to Tolliver's presentation Thursday.

"It shows that we do have a lot of needs, and it's across the state. Oil country in particular, but also in our agricultural counties and townships," Taylor said in an interview. "It does give us an idea of where we need to go to have modern infrastructure."

Dalrymple has not reviewed the report, a spokesman said.