- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 24, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed a “great legislative accomplishment” Tuesday that will fast-track $1.1 billion for highways and communities affected by North Dakota’s exploding growth.

The record one-time spending bill was rushed through the House and Senate so infrastructure projects begin by summer. The bulk of the money will be spent in in western North Dakota’s oil-producing region, which has been overwhelmed with spending needs on roads, utilities, housing and schools amid a flourishing state economy.

Only two senators and two representatives voted against the so-called surge funding measure. It passed under an emergency clause which needed two-thirds support in the House and Senate so it could take effect after the governor signed it. Normally, it would go into effect Aug. 1.

“I have never seen the Legislature come together and act so expeditiously and in such a determined fashion to accomplish a common goal,” Dalrymple told lawmakers and officials from the western part of the state. “Any way you want to look at it, this is a huge sum of money to meet these needs.”

The legislation includes $972 million for infrastructure improvements in the state’s oil-producing region and $128 million for areas just outside of it. The total sum includes $450 million for state highway projects in western North Dakota, where traffic has increased 71 percent since 2010, Dalrymple said.

State Department of Transportation Director Grant Levi said several highway projects will go out for bid next month.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said the entire state is sharing in the billions of dollars in new wealth, but western North Dakota is paying the price. Without the funding for pressing infrastructure needs, development in the region is hamstrung, he said.

“We needed that funding to keep things going,” said Wardner, whose district is in the oil patch. “We cannot have a stop.”

Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said he “stole” the pen the governor used to sign the legislation and gave it to Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford.

“He deserves it,” Armstrong said of Sanford, whose city is near the epicenter of the oil patch in McKenzie County.

Sanford said he was grateful for the funding, which amounts to about $32 million for his city, and relished in obtaining the pen.

“I’m going to build a mantle for it and I’m not kidding,” he said.

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