- Associated Press - Sunday, June 29, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A new state plan could identify and help fix slow spots for truck traffic, saving companies time, fuel and, ultimately, money.

“We’re trying to have a system that doesn’t create a barrier to business in the state,” said Ben Ehreth, administrative transportation planner for the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

With oil production booming in the west and the economy booming across the state, a lot of growth has happened related to freight, Ehreth said. That has created a lot of demand on North Dakota’s transportation system. The North Dakota State Freight Plan is NDDOT’s response.

“With the increase in vehicle miles traveled, it became apparent this needs further examination,” Arik Spencer, executive vice president of the North Dakota Motor Carriers Association, told The Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/1sBTvUQ ).

The freight plan is the first plan of this nature the North Dakota Department of Transportation has undertaken. It takes into account rail, air, pipeline and road transport and identifies “bottlenecks” slowing down transport, Ehreth said.

For example, the plan looks at travel numbers and determines what level of congestion is most like to cause delays. In those areas, roads may be expanded to address it.

The plan notes elements, like low bridges or load capacities, that might be keeping trucks off a certain road. If trucks have to take a less direct route, the shipping expense is increased.

“Developing a freight plan is going to help direct (infrastructure) investment (by the state),” Spencer said. “When looking at investment, any time you take a high level view, it’s better than addressing issues as they come up.”

That is what the plan is meant to do. It does not identify one particular road or another. Instead, it takes trends into account and identifies what factors cause or could cause a slowdown in the system.

“The plan gives direction to defining barriers,” Ehreth said. “Each problem will have a unique circumstance. The plan takes a more comprehensive view.”

By looking at all factors, the plan also makes sure all problems are addressed on each project so infrastructure doesn’t have to be rebuilt multiple times.

Those stretches of road that meet the criteria in the plan will be the most likely to receive state and federal money to make improvements. While the oil boom has focused a lot of attention to road needs to the west, the agriculture and manufacturing industries also are driving need in the east.

Trends identified by the plan include the predicted doubling of natural gas production by 2017, increased consumer-related freight to meet the needs of more people coming to the state, increased agricultural traffic, new freight movement from companies supporting the state’s energy and manufacturing industries and a predicted increase in air freight due to globalization, among other things.

Public meetings held in Fargo, Bismarck and Williston each attracted 10-20 people, mostly fertilizer companies, rail officials and local politicians. Ehreth said comments have so far been consistent with the trends and needs already identified.

Ehreth said the purpose of public comment on the plan is to bring together many different interests to develop it.

“We don’t make our living moving freight,” he said. “Our job is to help those that do. This gives us a better understanding.”

The NDDOT executive team will consider the plan for adoption in the coming months.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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