Taken at face value HB1284 seems like a pretty simple piece of policy. All it does is require that the rumble strips on our state highways be placed at 20 foot intervals.
Typically those strips, which are along the fog lines of most highways in the state and along the center lines on undivided highways, are continuous. The lawmakers behind the legislation want them spaced out.
But the floor debate over the bill revealed that this issue is a proxy for some larger frustrations with the Department of Transportation. Rep. Jeff Magrum of Hazelton, who sponsored the legislation, said people in his district are upset with the DOT closing down rural maintenance shops in their area. Rep. Jon Nelson of Rugby expressed similar frustration over the DOT closing rest areas without consulting the Legislature.
While some lawmakers were critical of this legislation because they said it amounts to micromanaging the DOT, others said the Legislature perhaps needs more management.
“We should make it transparently clear to this Department of Transportation that the legislature will be involved with some of these decisions,” he said.
But Rep. Dan Ruby of Minot pointed out that this legislation was a poor vehicle for solving perceived problems with the DOT, adding that questions over maintenance shops and rest areas should be solved “in appropriations.”
Ruby also said there is “no proof” rumble strips accelerate cracking in state highways, but Rep. Sebastian Ertlet of Lisbon disagreed.
“It does happen,” he said of the road cracking.
The whole debate was pretty bizarre. The of spacing rumble strips, by itself, seems trivial. As Ertlet noted, at highway speeds a 20 foot space means very little. So whether they’re spaced or not, I guess I don’t have much of an opinion either way.
But some in the Legislature are determined to send the DOT a message about setting policy, which is the larger issue.
Still, I think Rep. Ruby has a point. Questions about which rest areas should stay open, or where maintenance facilities should be located, should be settled in appropriations. The rural lawmakers upset with the DOT see the agency as closing rest areas and maintenance shops in their area because there are fewer people and less resistance.
Maybe that’s true, but overall it’s also true that with improved vehicle and construction technology the need for rest areas and maintenance shops is lessened.
It’s progress, and it’s hard to argue with.