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Amid crumbling roads, North Dakota producers push for infrastructure funds

BISMARCK, N.D. — Ranchers and farmers say timing is everything for successful production, but North Dakota producers said it’s not just changing weather patterns they’re contending with.

Declining infrastructure is another barrier, and they hope lawmakers come through with key funding.

So far this session, bonding proposals of different sizes have been floated as the Legislature looks to pay for a number of infrastructure projects. But price tags for these plans have come down, and money for county and township-level improvements has been removed.

Matt Perdue, government relations director for the North Dakota Farmers Union, said rural communities need those funds, with roads deteriorating around them.

“In North Dakota, in the eastern half of the state, we’ve had wet conditions the last several years that have caused a lot of stress on our roads,” Perdue observed. “And in some cases, [conditions] have even overwhelmed or flooded out some of our rural roads.”

At the same time, farm equipment is getting bigger, putting even more stress on roads. The group added transportation delays can be costly during the planting or harvest season.

Some state lawmakers said they’re leery of taking on bonding debt and how it would impact future budgets. Meanwhile, the state has seen major oil revenue declines, and money for the bonding package would come from the oil tax savings account, known as the Legacy Fund.

But Perdue argued lawmakers need to take advantage of low-interest rates that would make road-improvement projects even more beneficial.

With the planting season fast approaching, he noted a wet spring could bring more harm to farmers and ranchers if they encounter delays in gaining access to a field.

“You gotta get the crop in the ground or the cattle on grass on the day you need to get it in the ground or the cattle on grass,” Perdue explained.

The Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute estimates North Dakota’s county and township infrastructure needs more than $9 billion in upgrades over the next two decades.

As for funding alternatives, Perdue said they’re hopeful about a proposed gasoline tax increase, which has seen some movement, or there will be help from a federal stimulus package.

In the meantime, the size and scope of a bonding bill will see more debate with new revenue projections due this month.

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