Transportation Update November 2020

North Dakota leads nation in highway performance and cost-effectiveness

North Dakota’s highway system ranks first in the nation in overall performance and cost-effectiveness, according to the Annual Highway Report published this week by Reason Foundation.

“This report recognizes the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s (NDDOT) extraordinary efforts in maintaining and preserving our roads,” says NDDOT Director Bill Panos. “The finding of this year’s report illustrates that preserving roads early is a good investment. Thanks to the Governor and state Legislature, we have the ability to make these essential infrastructure investments.”

The Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Report measures the condition and cost-effectiveness of state-controlled highways in 13 categories, including pavement condition, traffic congestion, structurally deficient bridges, traffic fatalities, and spending (capital, maintenance, administrative, overall) per mile. While North Dakota ranks first overall, in safety and performance categories, North Dakota ranks 21st in overall fatality rate, and 42nd in structurally deficient bridges, two areas that are the agency’s focus in the upcoming legislative session. Finally, North Dakota ranks 3rd in traffic congestion, 5th in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 5th in rural Interstate pavement condition.

“The Reason Foundation report is a reflection of the Department’s efforts to put as much of its revenues as possible onto the roads and bridges,” says Panos. “It also shows that there is more work to do as we need to focus on state bridges and make timely investments in many areas.”

The Reason Foundation’s Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems analyzes the condition, performance and cost effectiveness including administrative overhead of the state-owned road networks and bridges.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation maintains 8,624 roadway miles of highway and 1,725 bridges throughout the state.

View from inside the autonomous truck during an October training session.

NDDOT demonstrates its first autonomous impact protection vehicle

The NDDOT hosted federal, state, and local officials to demonstrate its first autonomous impact protection vehicle October 8 at the Grand Farm Test Site near Horace, ND.

“This is a great day for North Dakota to showcase its commitment to innovation,” said NDDOT Director Bill Panos. “This technology is one more tool that we will have available to enhance the safety of work zones in our state.”

The autonomous vehicle will improve safety in work zones by removing the driver from the impact protection vehicle during normal operation. Impact protection vehicles are typically human operated and are designed to protect road construction crews from distracted motorists in work zones.

Last year, there were 261 work zone related crashes on North Dakota highways. These crashes resulted in 64 injuries and two fatalities.

“The NDDOT remains committed to its Vision Zero initiative and our goal is to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries caused by motor vehicle crashes,” said Panos. “We will continue to look for innovative ways to improve the safety of our state highway system.”

The upgrade was made possible by a $241,687 grant from the Federal Highway Administration through its Accelerated Innovation Deployment (AID) program this past January.

This pilot project included the purchase of the autonomous vehicle technology that was used to convert a current NDDOT truck into a self-driving vehicle, or autonomous impact protection vehicle. This technology was developed by Kratos Defense in partnership with Royal Truck & Equipment.

The autonomous vehicle will be monitored and controlled by a human operated lead vehicle and will automatically follow behind construction equipment without putting a driver in danger.

NDDOT plans to officially deploy the autonomous impact protection vehicle in the Fargo area this spring.

NDDOT Director Bill Panos addresses the media during a press conference to announce the first autonomous impact protection vehicle in North Dakota.

NDDOT processed a record number of identification cards in October

The NDDOT's Driver License Division processed a record number of driver license and state ID cards during the month of October.

Statewide almost 25,000 customers received a new license or ID card during the month. This was an increase of 4,000 cards printed during October 2019.

“We typically see a rise in demand for driver license and state IDs each fall during an election year,” said Driver License Division Director Brad Schaffer. “Our staff has worked very hard to accommodate our customers and I am proud of the work they did.”

The NDDOT saw the number of address changes increase from 7,000 to 17,000 during October. Also, the number of out-of-state license transfers rose from an average of 1,500 a month to more than 2,400.

Schaffer attributes this record-breaking accomplishment to the appointment only system implemented in March. This system not only allowed the NDDOT to keep up with demand but also speed up the process and decrease wait times for customers.

Jeff Swank and Matt Kurle calibrate a drone before flight operations during a training session in Bismarck.

NDDOT selected for Unmanned Aircraft BEYOND Integration Pilot Program

The NDDOT has been selected as one of eight participants in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) BEYOND Program.

BEYOND is the next phase of the 2017 UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) which will extend the federal program over the next four years. NDDOT will work with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to shape the future of UAS (drones) in America, working on policies to safely advance UAS operations, including beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), flights over people and night operations.

Over the past three years, nine state, local and tribal IPP participants and their industry partners have significantly helped to advance UAS integration with increasingly complex operations.

Selected as lead applicant for the IPP in 2018 and now the BEYOND program, NDDOT will continue to work with FAA, Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NPUASTS), as well as partners and stakeholders across the state to conduct research on how to safely integrate UAS into the National Airspace System.

“From the Grand Sky research and development park to the nation’s first statewide BVLOS network in Vantis, North Dakota continues to invest in cutting-edge UAS technology and attract new companies and jobs to further diversify and strengthen our economy,” said Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, who chairs the Northern Plains UAS Authority.

Using innovative strategies, the IPP Lead Participants crafted successful safety cases to operate under the FAA’s existing regulations to conduct UAS operations that included package delivery, law enforcement support, infrastructure inspections, disaster damage assessments, agricultural applications and other missions. The data from these flights has informed ongoing rulemaking, policy and guidance and will continue to support future efforts.

“Our success in UAS research allows us to advance technology while keeping safety at the forefront,” said NDDOT Director Bill Panos. “We look forward to continue working in partnership with North Dakota UAS leaders and building a safer airspace while developing economic benefits for the state."

The FAA is working with all the original Lead Participants to continue this successful work with new focused efforts to tackle remaining UAS challenges such as beyond visual line-of-sight operations and societal and economic benefits through BEYOND.

The UAS BEYOND program will focus on the steps necessary to facilitate scalable, repeatable and economically feasible Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations. This will involve leveraging Vantis, North Dakota’s statewide UAS network.

This first-of-its-kind network will facilitate safe and efficient BVLOS flights, giving North Dakota expanded capacity for complex operations. Key site implementation for Vantis is already in progress, and as it is built out to cover the entire state, UAS BEYOND will inform that development.

The new Long X Bridge was open to traffic November 2.

NDDOT wraps up 193 projects as construction season closes

The NDDOT wraps up work on 193 road and bridge projects during the 2020 construction season, which is coming to a close around the state.

“2020 was a tremendous year for the NDDOT and the state of North Dakota,” said NDDOT Director Bill Panos. “We invested almost $400 million into the state highway system and improved all modes of transportation throughout the state. I want to personally thank everyone who contributed to making this construction season successful and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for the state’s transportation system.”

Notable projects completed in 2020 include the Demers Avenue Project in Grand Forks; the Interstate 94 pedestrian bridge in Dickinson; the Fargo Main Avenue project; and the new Long X Bridge opening to traffic.

Major construction projects by region include:

Bismarck District:

  • Reconstruction of 43rd Avenue from Montreal Street to State Street in Bismarck
  • Milling and overlay on US 83 NB/SB from Bismarck to Wilton
  • Milling and overlay on ND 36 from Wilton to Junction ND 14
  • Main Street signals, curb and gutter, lighting, landscaping in Bismarck
  • Safety Corridor on US 83 from Bismarck to Washburn

Dickinson District:

  • Surfacing and widening on ND 22 from Junction 12 to New England
  • Major rehabilitation on ND 8 from Junction 200 to Twin Buttes
  • Lighting and signals on Villard Street in Dickinson

Williston District:

  • Concrete overlay on US 2 from Blaisdell to west of Berthold
  • Reconstruction of ND 1804 from Red Mike Area to west of Williston
  • Major rehabilitation on ND 73 from Junction ND 23 to mile 6
  • Bridge deck overlay on ND 23 Four Bears Bridge
  • Reconstruction of intersection of ND 1804 and 7th Avenue East in Williston

Minot District:

  • Major rehabilitation on ND 37 from Parshall to 4 miles east of Junction ND 1804
  • Reconstruction of 31st Avenue from Broadway to 13th Street Southeast in Minot
  • Overlay on ND 37 from Garrison to Junction US 83
  • Micro surfacing on ND 43 from Junction ND 14 to Junction US 281

Devils Lake District:

  • Major rehabilitation on US 2 west of Devils Lake
  • Major rehabilitation on US 281 from Sheyenne to near Junction ND 57
  • Grade raise on ND 20 north of Devils Lake

Valley City District:

  • Milling and overlay ND 46 from Junction 281 to Junction ND 1
  • 5th Avenue Northwest reconstruction in Valley City
  • Milling and overlay on ND 1 from Junction I-94 North to Junction ND 26
  • Main Street milling, overlay, lighting, signals, bikeway, and ramp revisions in Valley City

Fargo District:

  • Milling and overlay on ND 32 from Junction ND 13 to Lisbon
  • Bridge deck overlay on I-29 3 miles north of ND 200
  • Concrete median barrier on I-29 south of 17th Avenue South in Fargo
  • Deck overlay on 12th Avenue North in Fargo
  • Concrete pavement repair and chip sealing on ND 13 from I-29 to Wahpeton

Grand Forks District:

  • Concrete overlay on US 2 eastbound from Grand Forks Air Force Base to 69th Street
  • Milling and overlay on ND 1 from ND 26 to east of Junction ND 200
  • Milling and overlay with pipe repairs on ND 1 from Lakota to near Edmore
  • University Avenue milling and overlay from State Street to 3rd Street in Grand Forks
  • 5th Street from US 2 to Demers Avenue milling and overlay in Grand Forks

For more information about construction projects and road conditions throughout North Dakota, call 511 or visit the Travel Information Map on the NDDOT website at http://www.dot.nd.gov/travel-info-v2/.

NDDOT snowplows now equipped with blue lights

The NDDOT has equipped snowplows with new blue lights to help reduce the number of rear end collisions this winter.

The rear-facing blue-and-white LED lights blue lights, which flash during operating, will help reduce rear end collisions by making the vehicles more visible.

“The NDDOT is committed to its Vision Zero initiative and our goal is to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries caused by motor vehicle crashes,” said NDDOT Director Bill Panos. “The use of more highly visible blue lights on our snowplows will help protect our traveling public and the NDDOT equipment operators out on the roads this winter.”

NDDOT had 30 vehicle/snowplow crashes in the winter of 2019.

A pilot project and study which was conducted by Iowa Department of Transportation showed that rear-end and side-swipe snowplow crashes decreased from 15 in 2014 to 4 in 2017 after they installed blue lights on their snowplows.

Safety is always a top priority at NDDOT, and the blue lights are one of many items we look at to improve safety on highways.

Photo of the highway safety corridor on US 83 north of Bismarck.

NDDOT implements safety corridors to help reduce fatalities

As part of North Dakota’s Vision Zero initiative to reduce motor vehicle crash fatalities and serious injuries the NDDOT has implemented three highway safety corridors throughout North Dakota on three rural highways.

Safety corridors are a Vision Zero solution in which engineering, enforcement, emergency response and education work together to help reduce crash fatalities and serious injuries to zero.

A highway safety corridor is an existing highway segment selected for heightened driver education and enforcement, and low-cost engineering solutions. The segments were selected based on crash history (higher crash densities).

The three corridors are currently located at the following locations:

  • US 85 Watford City to ND 68 (14-mile safety corridor)
  • US 52 Brooks Junction to Velva (35-mile safety corridor)
  • US 83 Bismarck to Washburn (36-mile safety corridor)

Motorists on the highway safety corridor see additional signage identifying the corridors as a Vision Zero Safety Corridor, informing them of reduced speed, no-passing zones, road conditions, and reminders to buckle up, drive sober, and distraction free.

In addition, corridor-wide infrastructure safety solutions include: pavement markings that are more visible, especially in dark or wet conditions; lighting; and turn lanes. Drivers also see more law enforcement and strict enforcement of traffic laws within the highway safety corridors.

Highway safety corridors will be monitored for a reduction in severe crashes and undesignated after 2-3 years. Additional highway safety corridor locations will be designated in the future.

State Fleet collaborates with Enterprise Rent-A-Car and UND Motor Pool

NDDOT State Fleet has joined forces with Enterprise Rent-A-Car to measure if there is a cost savings in utilizing a rental company for motor pool reservations. This pilot program, including partnership with the University of North Dakota Motor Pool, began in October.

A trip optimizer is used as a part of the reservation process of the car rental to determine if the reservation will save money. Various details from the trip factor into the trip optimizer to calculate whether or not there were costs saved throughout the duration of the trip.

NDDOT hosts virtual Local Government Summit

NDDOT hosted a virtual Local Government Summit for legislators, local government officials and transportation management officials on October 29, 2020. The summit offered a broad spectrum of key local roadway topics in a condensed learning session. Topics on the agenda provided critical asset information and management techniques that are key components of a local roadway management system. Best practices for local county, township, city, and tribal roads combine to provide better, safer roads.

Recordings of the presentations can be viewed on NDDOT’s website www.dot.nd.gov/divisions/localgov/local-gov-summit.htm