- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The same robust economy that is driving up North Dakota’s population is causing driver frustration from unprecedented traffic snarls.

Once a rarity, road rage and rush hours are becoming a reality in North Dakota, which until a decade or so ago was the only state losing population. The oil bonanza in the western part of the state has reversed that by attracting thousands of new residents in the past few years.

“People are just not used to it,” Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said of increased traffic in North Dakota’s biggest city and most anywhere else in the state.

U.S. Census Bureau data show the number of workers in the Fargo metro area rose from 106,489 in 2007 to more than 123,247 in 2013, the latest figures available. The average commute time for those workers climbed from just under 16 minutes in 2007 to almost 23 minutes in 2013, data show.

Mahoney said steps are being taken to make the city “more walkable and bike-able.” He said bus ridership also has been grown up to 4 percent annually in recent years.

Fargo and Bismarck were the fourth- and fifth-fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country in 2013, the Census Bureau said.

Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin said traffic congestion is new to the city where he has lived his entire life.

“It absolutely takes longer to get where you want to go,” Donlin said. “The streets are more congested with the increased population and the number of visitors coming to town. I’ve never before considered Bismarck to have a rush hour. But the streets are starting to jam up and we’ve got kind of a rush hour now.”

Data show the number of workers in the Bismarck metro was 69,121 in 2013, up from 56,231 in 2007 when the state’s oil boom was in its infancy. Slightly more than half of Bismarck commuters had drive times of 14 minutes or less in 2007, while slightly less than half of the commuters did so in 2013, data show.

Grand Forks workers increased from 51,252 in 2007 to 53,696 in 2013. The average drive time to work increased only several seconds during that time to just more than 15 minutes, data show.

No similar census data exists for the cities in western North Dakota’s oil patch, where traffic has increased exponentially with the boom.

That’s spurred the state to spend $2.3 billion over the past two years for road and infrastructure upgrades, much of it in the oil patch. An equal sum of money has been set aside for road and other improvements over the next two years.

The state spent $944 million in road and infrastructure improvements for the two-year budget cycle that ended in 2007, said Pam Sharp, the state budget director.

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