DOT program to examine Bowman road safety

Fifty-six-percent of the severe vehicle crashes in 2007 and 2011 occurred on the local road system within North Dakota, according to a strategic highway safety plan completed this year by the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

Posted Nov. 8, 2013


Pioneer Editor

Fifty-six-percent of the severe vehicle crashes in 2007 and 2011 occurred on the local road system within North Dakota, according to a strategic highway safety plan completed this year by the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

In an effort to curb that percentage, the NDDOT is offering a Local Road Safety Program to North Dakota counties, including Bowman County.

Bryon Fuchs, of the Local Government Division at NDDOT, spoke via telephone conference Tuesday to the Bowman County Board of Commissioners during its regular meeting, discussing the new safety program.

The Local Road Safety Program, if agreed to by the commissioners, would bring the NDDOT into the county for an examination of all the paved roads.

“They’re looking at at-risk locations,” Fuchs said.

The NDDOT then would compile safety descriptions of certain areas and identify a short list of high-priority, low cost safety strategies for locations that are considered candidates for safety improvements including such areas as roadway segments, horizontal curves and intersections with multiple severe crashes.

The NDDOT began the program in Ward County, which includes the city of Minot, and Burleigh County, which encompasses Bismarck.

Five northeast counties also were included in the project.

“For those five (northeast) counties … this program identified about $4 million in areas that were looked at for potential that a severe crash could happen at these locations,” Fuchs said.

If Bowman County choses to participate in the project, the county is not obligated to fix any of the locations unless they choose to do so, he said.

There was a concern amongst the commissioners that if some of the at-risk areas were identified, it would put Bowman County at risk for potential litigation, Fuchs said. That concern was quashed, however, as the program features protection – under U.S. Code 409 – for the county from any related legal issues.

Annually, the NDDOT receives roughly $10 million in safety funds to be used throughout the state, for state or local roads. Those funds, as of this month, can now be shared with the counties for their local road systems.

“When all these plans are completed for the counties, there’s a potential that the counties would received about half of that,” Fuchs said.

Funds would be allocated to the counties based upon the ratio of local crashes versus crashes on the state road system.

“So, the funding is there,” he said.

Funding for the projects would be 90 percent paid with federal funds and 10 percent with local funds. But the measures would be low cost, such as rumble strips, paint lines or signs.

The cost to the county for the project is estimated at $3,000.

“From the documents that we’ve seen and the product that we’ve seen for the counties that have participated to date … we’re thinking we’re getting a very good investment,” Fuchs said.

Commissioner Bill Bowman expressed concern that the project did not have enough data since its implementation that shows its effectiveness.

“Most of our roads where there’s curves, they have curve signs on it and stop signs already, so what is going to be different if you go through this program?” Bowman asked Fuchs.

Counties in Minnesota where a similar program was implemented have seen a reduction in severe crashes, Fuchs said.

“When we were up in Ward County … they started doing pavement markings on the (road) edges and, overtime, that’s reduced severe crashes,” he said.

If Bowman County does not elect to participate in the program, cities such as Rhame, Bowman and Scranton would lose the opportunity to easily submit projects for safety funds. Based on the new risk assessment, if the city of Bowman wanted to do some safety improvements and the county did not involve itself with the project, the city would have to go out on its own to procure entities other than NDDOT to conduct safety examinations.

Bowman County Road Superintendent Neil Hofland said “forcing Bowman County to participate in the project” or else the cities would be unable to easily submit for NDDOT safety projects was not a good part of the project.

“They’re blackmailing us into making the cities –– If we don’t do it, the cities don’t get it,” Hofland said.

The plan excludes dirt or gravel roads because the majority of the severe crashes occur on the paved road system. Chip sealed roads are included in the project along with the county’s nine miles of paved roads, Fuchs said.

There are many roads that may be considered safe, but as oil activity shifts back towards Bowman County, there will be a lot of drivers unfamiliar with the roads and “severe crashes would go up drastically,” he said.

“I have no problem signing up with this because of public safety, but it’s another program that’s put upon us that really cannot be backed up factually as to how much it really does as far as good and safety for the people,” Bowman said. “The people that don’t pay attention, I can’t see that it’s going to make any difference to those people.”

Fuchs said the point of the program is to reduce the amount of severe crashes and that the program also would focus on behavioral issues such as intoxicated drivers, seatbelt usage, people driving under the age of 21 and aggressive driving.

The county commissioners decided to participate in the program and move forward with it.