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Investing in infrastructure could give US households a financial boost, study says

Construction work is seen Oct. 26, 2017, at 13th Avenue and Ninth Street East in West Fargo.

FARGO — North Dakotans stand to gain thousands of jobs — and extra cash in their pockets — if the U.S. invested billions of dollars in infrastructure, according to a University of Maryland study.

Households in the state could see $2,100 a year in disposable cash over the next 20 years if local, state and federal leaders allocate $737 billion across the U.S. to infrastructure needs over the next decade, according to a study commissioned by the Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs that lead major U.S. corporations. The investment also could create 5,000 jobs in North Dakota.

For Minnesotans, the investment could mean $1,500 extra a year and 22,000 additional jobs. On average, Americans could get an extra $1,400 a year per household, the study said.

Fixing roads would alleviate congestion, save fuel and reduce wear and tear on vehicles, the study said. Investments also could result in wage increases if businesses are not losing money to transportation costs associated with poor road conditions.

North Dakota needs safe roads to move goods and people safely and efficiently, said Russ Hanson, executive vice president for the Associated General Contractors of North Dakota. "A common comment is a sound infrastructure is key to a good economy," he said.

Business Roundtable commissioned the study after its members said Congress has fallen behind on funding road systems, said Matt Sonnesyn, the group's vice president of infrastructure. He cited an 8 percent decline in public spending on infrastructure from 2003 to 2017, adding that 44 percent of the country’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

"Not only are we not expanding our infrastructure to meet the needs that we have today, we’re not even keeping things up to a good state of repair anymore," he said, noting 23 percent of national highway bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

North Dakota needs $24.6 billion in infrastructure investments in the next 20 years to maintain roads and bridges, but it is expected to fall short by $14.6 billion with projected revenue streams, according to the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute.

Federal funding for North Dakota roads has stayed steady since 2012 and isn’t expected to see a major bump in 2020, according to a March 2018 presentation from the state Department of Transportation.

One-time infrastructure spending from the North Dakota Legislature has decreased dramatically in recent years, going from $1.4 billion in the 2015-17 biennium to $16.3 million in the last two years — almost half the $30.8 million allocated in the 2007-09 biennium, according to the NDDOT.

Large increases in the mid-2010s came as an oil boom in western North Dakota boosted revenues for the state, and legislators allocated funds to improve infrastructure in the Bakken region.

Other states made moves to increase infrastructure funding as federal spending remained stagnant, Hanson said. He called North Dakota’s spending during the boom historic, but the federal government hasn’t increased its fuel tax since 1993. “You take a look at the eroding buying power from 1993 to 2019, and it simply can’t keep up,” he said.

The study said roughly 60 percent of the nationwide infrastructure investment should come from the federal government, about 30 percent from state and local funding, and the rest from the private sector.