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ND House Approves Transport Proposal

Sat February 26, 2005 - Midwest Edition
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BISMARCK, ND (AP) A comprehensive proposal to bolster North Dakota’s transportation network won narrow approval in the state House. It endorsed raising the state fuel tax by 3 cents a gallon, and motor vehicle registration fees by $25 annually.

Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, the legislation’s sponsor, said the bill was intended to set out a blueprint for long-term improvements to North Dakota’s roads and transportation network generally. It sets statewide priorities for road standards and maintenance.

“We cannot continue the path we’re on today, when it comes to our infrastructure,” Weisz said in a House floor speech.

Representatives voted 51 to 40 to approve his legislation, which now goes to the Senate for its review.

It includes money for improvements to freight rail branch lines, a special fund for selected road improvements in high-traffic areas, and authority to issue bonds to supplement federal highway aid if state revenues fall short.

The bill establishes a committee, including two legislators, North Dakota’s transportation director and city and county representatives, to review economic development projects, and what transportation improvements they might require.

The bill’s opponents said they disliked its tax increases and its provision for issuing debt for transportation projects.

“There might be a reason to have a long-term plan for our highways, but I’m not sure at all that this is it,” said Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo. “I think we don’t understand how we’re going to pay it back, or how we’re going to cover the costs.”

Rep. Mike Timm, R-Minot, said the legislation was so broad it was difficult to discern some of its long-term implications.

“It’s a large increase in a lot of fees,” Timm said. “All of a sudden we’re increasing fees … and subsequently, the funds aren’t going to really improve the highways. They’re going into all these special funds.”

The legislation increases North Dakota’s annual registration fees for cars and trucks by $13 annually on July 1, and adds another $12 increase on July 1, 2009.

The state motor fuels tax, which is now 21 cents a gallon, would rise to 23 cents on July 1, and to 24 cents a gallon in July 2009.

Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, said she hopes Weisz’s legislation “would bring all of our state roads up to a minimum level.”

“It is a six-year program, and yes, there are costs to it,” she said.

Weisz, who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said even the tax increases included in his bill would not provide enough money to keep up North Dakota’s road network to the standard that many motorists expect.

North Dakota spends $200 million less than South Dakota every two years on road construction and repair, and South Dakota has fewer road miles to maintain, Weisz said.

“If we were going to maintain every road in the state to the level we would like, it would cost the state an additional $300 million a year,” he said. “This is actually a very modest proposal of dealing with the infrastructure we’ve got handed to us. I can’t go back and get rid of 20,000 miles of roads.”