- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A group of North Dakota lawmakers is suggesting legislation that would devote more oil tax money to highway corridors impacted by energy development.

The 12-member Energy Development and Transmission Committee unveiled draft legislation Tuesday that would set aside $75 million each two-year budget cycle for major improvements and construction of highway corridors. The committee’s proposal would give priority to U.S. Highway 85, the main north-south corridor in western North Dakota’s oil patch and a road that has seen an exponential increase of traffic with the oil boom.

The bill will be considered by the Legislature when it convenes in January.

The Legislature previously earmarked more than $300 million to make the 46 miles of U.S. 85 between Williston and Watford City four lanes. The project is scheduled to be completed in late 2015, state Transportation Director Grant Levi said.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, is chairman of the Energy Development and Transmission Committee. Wardner said using the additional oil tax revenue for highway improvements would not take way from other pressing needs in areas impacted by oil drilling.

“It does not affect the formula money for counties, cities and school districts,” he said.

Wardner, whose district is an oil-producing region, has been an advocate for turning Highway 85 into a four-lane road between South Dakota and the Canadian border - a project named the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway for the former U.S. president who once ranched in western North Dakota’s Badlands.

Levi told the committee on Tuesday that his agency is starting environmental work on widening the approximate 60-mile section of U.S. 85 between Watford City and Interstate 94, the main east-west corridor in the southern half of the state. Levi said the cost of construction for that project is pegged at $735 million “in today’s dollars” and widening U.S. 85 from Interstate 94 to the South Dakota border would cost $825 million.

The projects’ costs would increase about 12 percent annually based on construction inflation averages taken since 2001, Levi said.

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