Faces Of The Boom: N.D. Sees More Out-of-state Road Crews

Miguel Rodriguez waits for traffic to pass on Thursday, May 2, 2013, in Ray, N.D., while filling potholes on U.S. Highway 2. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

RAY, N.D. – Some say roads in the Oil Patch have potholes so big they could swallow your car.

This could be true on U.S. Highway 2 in Ray, but a crew working to replace underground utilities fills the same potholes practically every day.

At Ray, consolidating the heavy truck traffic on U.S. Highway 2 from four lanes to two creates craters as big as 5 feet in diameter, sometimes forcing drivers to swerve into the oncoming lane of traffic to avoid them.

The speed is reduced to 15 mph, but most motorists exceed that, said Dan Rogers, superintendent for Lakeshore Toltest Corp. .

“Every time we fix them, they go faster,” Rogers said. “That makes it harder for us.”

Filling the potholes takes two to three hours each day and repairs on a bridge require them to block traffic. Rogers said crews initially filled potholes every day, but they’ve cut down to every few days to reduce traffic speeds.

The crew has been working since April on the first phase of the Highway 2 project in Ray. The full project, which includes concrete overlay, paving and replacement of gutter and sidewalks, is expected to take all summer.

The company is from Arizona, where work is slow, Rogers said. Crew members come from all over the country and go home to visit their families every few months.

“Everybody’s from somewhere else,” Rogers said.

Equipment operator Bill Schroeder of Spokane, Wash., has been working in North Dakota since October. Last year, he worked in Montana and was laid off early in the season.

Equipment operator Bill Schroeder of Spokane, Wash., works Thursday, May 2, 2013, on a road work project in Ray, N.D. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

Miguel Rodriguez of Grand Island, Neb., came to North Dakota for work two years ago.

“North Dakota’s crazy,” Rodriguez said. “Yesterday it was cold. Today it’s hot.”

In recent years, North Dakota has seen more out-of-state contractors, both because of North Dakota’s increase in projects and also because companies in other states are looking for work, said Russ Hanson, executive vice president for the Associated General Contractors of North Dakota.

“Most of those other states are really struggling economically,” Hanson said.

One of the biggest challenges for the out-of-state contractors working in the Oil Patch is finding housing for their workers, Hanson said. Some rent apartments or long-term hotels for workers while others purchase housing units, he said.

For the men working in Ray, the company provides crew camp housing, Rogers said.

This construction season will bring a record number of contractors into North Dakota, though it’s tough to estimate how many workers that will be, Hanson said.

Western North Dakota will have an intense construction season this year with $695 million in North Dakota Department of Transportation projects. The entire state will have $878 million in NDDOT projects this year.

For the western part of the state, that’s more than double the $305 million in projects from last year.

Some have worried that as North Dakota has more construction projects, there won’t be enough bidders, Hanson said. But with the increased interest from out-of-state contractors, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.

“There are more bidders now than we’ve ever had,” Hanson said. “The competition is very good even with the increased amount of work.”