This column ran in the April 27 edition of the Prairie Post
Questions about roads are not new in North Dakota.
Back in 1941 Gov. John Moses said “We are maintaining the largest highway system in point of mileage per car of any state in the Union.”
And the roads were in tough shape. In 1939 the United States Public Roads Administration found more than half of North Dakota roads unsatisfactory. This at a time when North Dakota had only 1,700 miles of paved roads.
As with most problems, at least some people blamed the Federal government.
From 1916, when the Federal government first starting making grants for roads to states, only new construction was eligible for bucks from Washington. In many years North Dakota continued to build new roads, with Federal dollars, while letting maintenance slide.
But things changed after World War II.
The state took more responsibility for maintaining its roads. Gas taxes were raised and enforcement improved while vehicle registration fees were also increased. In a matter of a few years North Dakota increased state road spending to the point it spent the most of any state in the Union based on population.
In 1951 the state of North Dakota had 73,000 miles of roads and 43,000 miles of prairie trails. Of those totals about 6,500 miles were state roads, 18,000 miles were county roads and the rest were township roads. About 2,329 miles of roads, mostly state roads, were paved.
And in 1951 the state set a goal of having a paved road reach every county seat in North Dakota. This would require a staggering 4,121 miles of paved road.
The point I’m trying to make is that just 60 years ago a paved road in North Dakota was a rarity. Over those six decades there has been a huge amount of road construction, much of it in the 1960s and 1970s, bringing us thousands of miles of new paved roads at the state, county and even township levels.
Those roads were built at an ideal time. Construction costs were low and the tax base was sufficient to support the projects.
Now many of those roads need repair and it is less than an ideal time. Construction costs are high and the tax base insufficient to support the projects.
Which puts us in the same position, when it comes to roads, as we were at the end of World War II.
We can either put up with bad roads or decide to pay for the work needed to repair the situation.
Or go back to 1951.