ND removes new safety posts farmers say make rural roads more dangerous

When North Dakota Department of Transportation officials were figuring out ways to use up some $4 million in federal pandemic funds, they invited more than “2,000 diverse stakeholders for input in development of the plan, of which more than 200 participated,” according to Forum News. But it apparently never occurred to anyone to run the idea by the folks who rely on roads in the rural agricultural state as much or more than anyone else–farmers.

New safety measures along two-lane highways in North Dakota will be delayed after farmers complained they impeded their ability to transport equipment and actually made the roads less safe.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation has stopped installing delineators, or reflective metal posts, in order to come up with a design change that will accommodate wider equipment on those highways.

Sen. Janne Myrdal, a Republican lawmaker and farmer from Edinburg, said she started hearing from fellow farmers in northeastern North Dakota a few weeks ago when combines and beet pickers began hitting the roads for harvest.

“It was almost like civil unrest up here, to be honest with you,” Myrdal said.

The idea was to install reflective posts along highways as a safety measure to help drivers see the road better, particularly at night. But the supposed improvement backfired when farmers ran into trouble trying to maneuver their heavy machinery past the posts. The farmers’ complaints went straight to the top of state government.

They brought their concerns to Myrdal, who said she alerted Gov. Doug Burgum’s office, NDDOT, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and other state lawmakers.

“Maybe in some areas they’re great, but they’re just plain dangerous and impractical in agricultural sections of the state,” Myrdal said.

Agriculture groups also got involved, including the North Dakota Farmers Union and the North Dakota Farm Bureau, she said.

“After a great deal of consideration, I believe we came up with a solution that provides safety measures for the motoring public on our main roads without compromising the safe operation of equipment on North Dakota highways,” Goehring said in a statement.

The reflective safety posts are standard on North Dakota four-lane state highways and the interstate system. But on other roads state transportation officials have agreed to remove some of the posts and revamp the plan in response to farmers’ concerns.

NDDOT spokesman David Finley said the focus now will be on ensuring at least a 28-foot clearance between a highway’s centerline and a delineator post, to accommodate wider equipment.

Not all situations allow for 28-foot clearance, he said, so the posts in areas with less than that will be removed and reused as replacements for posts along interstates that are damaged.

The design change in the works could involve collapsible delineators, but Finley said it’s too soon to say for certain.

Of course all the controversy and confusion could have been avoided altogether if NDDOT had done the obvious and checked with farmers and agriculture groups in the first place.