A state as large and rural as North Dakota must have transportation infrastructure to keep folks and commerce on the move – that means updated roads, bridges, airports, railways. A long-term, comprehensive infrastructure package is long overdue – and Senator Heitkamp been calling for one for years. As North Dakota’s population has drastically increased, it has added new pressures on existing roads, bridges, and water infrastructure which have made it clear that much of our transportation infrastructure needs improvements to handle more people and to keep those on our roads safe. Just a few short years ago, growth in the oil patch put severe stress on the state’s transportation infrastructure. Communities have been able to make progress to meet changing demands, more work continues to upgrade and improve the safety of the state’s transportation infrastructure.
Highways and Roads
Funding for rural highways and roads is one of the most important transportation issues facing North Dakota. As part of her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative, Senator Heitkamp has brought together community leaders to discuss the state's transportation infrastructure needs and the importance of building, repairing, and expanding roads and bridges across North Dakota to both improve safety and keep up with increased traffic.
In addition, Senator Heitkamp co-chairs the Ports to Plains Caucus in the U.S. Senate, a platform to advocate for needed federal investment to North Dakota and long-term, comprehensive solutions to make the state's roads and bridges safe and reliable. The Ports to Plains Caucus has a shared recognition of the need for enhancements to the north-south corridor of the federal highway system.
Investments to rural infrastructure are not only important to the rural communities of North Dakota, they are important to the entire nation. Rural transportation networks in states like North Dakota’s serve to link major population centers, enable agricultural products grown in North Dakota to reach destination markets, assist in energy production which largely occurs in rural areas, and facilitate military readiness. That’s why Senator Heitkamp has worked to highlight the importance of rural transportation policies to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and other important federal transportation policy makers in Washington.
Senator Heitkamp helped pass a long-term highway bill that supports repairs and improvements to rails, roads, and bridges in North Dakota and across the country for five years. This bipartisan, long-term bill supports North Dakota’s transportation infrastructure by authorizing steady increases in federal funding to make sure the state can plan for expanding communities, repair deficient bridges, and upgrade and expand roads.
In the wake of the derailment of a crude oil train near Casselton in 2013 and following the derailment in Heimdal in 2015, Senator Heitkamp has made rail safety a top priority. Largely due to the energy boom in North Dakota, the number of railcars carrying crude oil grew by more than 4,000 percent between 2008 and 2013, according to the Association of American Railroads. Senator Heitkamp brought the former U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary to North Dakota, including to Casselton, to meet with local, state, and federal officials to review work on a comprehensive plan for improving rail safety. To improve safety for North Dakota’s communities, Senator Heitkamp also introduced and worked to pass her RESPONSE Act – a key part of her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative -- which was signed into law to make sure first responders have the training and resources they need to handle potential hazardous incidents, such as derailments of trains carrying crude oil.
Reliable and consistent rail service is a critical piece of North Dakota’s transportation network. Senator Heitkamp works closely with rail operators, both large and small, and government agencies to make sure customers have access to affordable and safe rail options. She has also been a strong advocate for continued Amtrak passenger rail service throughout North Dakota.
When the railroads failed to meet the demands of North Dakota’s agricultural shippers in the winter of 2014, Senator Heitkamp acted quickly to put pressure on federal agencies and the railroads to restore service. After her work with the Surface Transportation Board and the state’s elevators, the railroads dedicated more resources to North Dakota – installing more track and hiring more staff to meet the increased demand.
North Dakota air travel has dramatically increased in recent years, and a robust network of general aviation airports connect rural communities to air transportation and support the state’s economy.
Senator Heitkamp has been a staunch defender of Essential Air Service (EAS), which provides critical federal support that enables airlines to serve rural communities. These funds help support small business growth and local jobs, make it possible for residents to travel, and boost tourism. EAS invests $4.2 million in Dickinson’s airport, $4 million in Devils Lake’s airport, and $2.8 million in Jamestown’s airport each year. She successfully pushed back on severe cuts to EAS in the administration’s budget.
Senator Heitkamp has been a vocal advocate for a new airport in Williston to meet the demand of the growing community. The groundbreaking for the airport followed years of work to push for the project.
She brought the then U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator to North Dakota to see firsthand the challenges facing the western part of the state, including to Willistonto learn more about the drastic rise in passenger enplanements, placing major stress on airport infrastructure. Following up on this visit, Senator Heitkamp urged him to approve the construction of a new airport for Williston and advocated for the funding to move forward on construction.
With the passage of a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the FAA, Senator Heitkamp successfully fought to include provisions to help protect Grand Forks’ burgeoning unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry. Grand Forks is a growing global hub for UAS innovation that takes advantage of nearby resources like the University of North Dakota, the Grand Forks Airforce Base, the Grand Sky Business Park, and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site. These resources are why Senator Heitkamp fought to expand the ability of UAS technologies to help respond to natural disasters, provide emergency response, and protect critical infrastructure like pipelines.
Senator Heitkamp has been a vocal advocate for the innovative Enhanced Use Lease between the U.S. Air Force and Grand Forks County that paved the way for the Grand Sky Business & Aviation Park, the first UAS business park of its kind anywhere in the nation, as well as for the Joint Use Agreement that will help tenants of the business park leverage the unique partnership with the Air Force.
A key piece of our infrastructure includes access to high-speed internet for all North Dakotans, including those in rural communities. At least 37 percent of North Dakota’s rural communities lack access to high-speed internet – that’s 2.5 times higher than the state’s urban areas – but as many as seven in 10 teachers nationwide assign homework that requires high-speed internet.
For folks living on North Dakota’s tribal lands, that lack of access has historically been a significant setback. Senator Heitkamp continues to push for improvements to high-speed internet and cellular service access on Indian reservations across the state.
As a founding member of the U.S. Senate Broadband Caucus, Senator Heitkamp has been pushing for bipartisan solutions that will connect every North Dakota family, business, and school to high-speed internet. She brought U.S. Federal Communications (FCC) Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to Mandan Middle School to join about 60 8th grade students for a conversation via Skype with University of North Dakota graduate and astronaut who was located 1,400 miles away in Houston, Texas. That conversation wouldn’t have been possible without the federal E-rate program, which builds high-speed internet learning opportunities in rural areas.
She also successfully pushed the FCC to approve a proposal to increase federal funding to connect rural health care providers to high-speed internet through the Rural Health Care (RHC) program— the first increase for the program in over 20 years. The RHC program has helped rural health providers expand telemedicine and deliver advanced medical care to children, seniors, veterans, and others in hard-to-reach communities.
Senator Heitkamp's Recent Work on Transportation
|10/3/18||Heitkamp Helps Pass Bipartisan FAA Bill to Support Rural Airports and Boost UAS Development in ND|
|9/12/18||Heitkamp Announces Federal Investment in Bismarck & Dickinson Airports|
|9/7/18||Heitkamp Announces Federal Investment in Williston & Dickinson Airports|
|8/24/18||Heitkamp Announces Federal Investment in ND Airports|
|8/21/18||Heitkamp: New Hours of Service Proposal for Truckers Will Help Ease Burdens, But Congress Must Act on Permanent Fix|