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North Dakota Faces $2.5 Billion Transportation Shortfall


While increased transportation investment in North Dakota, largely as a result of the state’s energy boom, has allowed numerous projects to proceed, additional investment is still needed to improve road and bridge conditions, enhance safety and accommodate projected growth, according to a new report from TRIP, a national nonprofit transportation research group based in Washington, D.C.

The TRIP report, “Modernizing North Dakota’s Transportation System: Progress & Challenges in Providing Safe, Efficient and Well-Maintained Roads, Highways & Bridges,” finds that with the amount of energy-related revenues available for transportation decreasing, North Dakota faces a significant shortfall in funding for needed transportation projects. Energy-related revenue in North Dakota used for transportation increased from $216 million in 2012 to $619 million in 2017 before dropping to $194 million in 2018. 

The state faces a $2.5 billion shortfall from 2018 to 2023 in transportation funding needed to improve road, highway and bridge conditions, support economic development opportunities and improve roadway safety. 

Largely as a result of the state’s energy boom and subsequent decline, North Dakota experienced the nation’s greatest rate of economic and vehicle travel growth from 2000 to 2014, and the nation’s greatest rate of reduction in economic output and vehicle travel from 2014 to 2016. The state’s population increased 18 percent from 2000 to 2017 and is expected to increase another 38 percent by 2040. North Dakota’s gross domestic product (GDP) increased 133 percent from 2000 to 2014, the highest rate in the nation during that time. 

However, the state’s GDP decreased seven percent from 2014 to 2016, the largest decline in the nation during that time. And while North Dakota experienced the largest increase in vehicle miles of travel (VMT) in the nation from 2000 to 2014 (46 percent), the state also experienced the largest decrease in VMT from 2014 to 2016 (7 percent). 

Energy extraction levels in North Dakota have begun rising again in 2018 following a modest downturn in 2016 and 2017, resulting in additional economic activity and vehicle travel in North Dakota, which will increase wear and tear on the state’s roads, highways and bridges.  

"North Dakota has made investments in recent years out of necessity because of the energy boom and paid for those investment with energy revenue," said Arik Spencer, president and CEO of the Greater North Dakota Chamber (GNDC). "This report makes clear more needs to be done. These findings are consistent with the wishes of GNDC's members, who consistently cite infrastructure as one of their greatest concerns and name it as a top priority for the next legislative session."

Nearly two-thirds of North Dakota’s major urban roads are in poor or mediocre condition, with pavement conditions projected to decline in the future without additional funding. According to the TRIP report, 36 percent of North Dakota’s major locally and state-maintained urban roads and highways have pavements in poor condition and 28 percent are rated in mediocre condition. 

The average annual miles of roads resurfaced or reconstructed by the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) will decrease by 24 percent from 2015-2018 to 2019-2022, largely due to reduced energy-related revenue. NDDOT estimates that the miles of state-maintained roads in poor condition will nearly double between 2018 and 2021, from 443 miles to 872 miles.

According to the TRIP report, 14 percent of North Dakota’s bridges are structurally deficient, meaning there is significant deterioration to the major components of the bridge.  

The Federal Highway Administration estimates that it would cost $164 million to replace or rehabilitate all structurally deficient bridges in North Dakota. The average number of bridges NDDOT is able to reconstruct or replace annually will decrease by 46 percent from 2015-2018 to 2019-2022, largely due to reduced energy-related revenue.   

Traffic crashes in North Dakota claimed the lives of 643 people between 2013 and 2017. The state’s rural, non-Interstate roads are particularly deadly, with a traffic fatality rate that is more than four times higher than on all other roads in the state (1.79 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel vs. 0.42).

The efficiency and condition of North Dakota’s transportation system, particularly its highways, is critical to the health of the state’s economy.  Annually, $106 billion in goods are shipped to and from sites in North Dakota, relying heavily on the state’s network of roads and bridges.

“While the increase of energy-related revenues allowed North Dakota to make strides in improving its transportation system, declining energy-related transportation revenues will result in reduced road and bridge repairs, leading to worsening road, highway and bridge conditions in the state,” said Will Wilkins, TRIP’s executive director. “Insuring that North Dakota’s transportation system contributes to a high quality of life in the state and supports North Dakota’s economic development goals will require increased transportation investment.”