DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Direct state control over North Dakota's highways occurred with the establishment of the State Highway Commission in 1913. Prior to 1913, care and construction of highways were primarily the responsibility of local governments.
In 1862 the Territorial Legislature provided for road maintenance by requiring the Board of County Commissioners in each county to divide their county into road districts and appoint a road supervisor to oversee each district (S.L. 1862, Ch. 71). In 1866, the road supervisor was required to maintain a list of all male residents eligible for two days of road labor annually. The road supervisor could summon road laborers to work on district roads for the two days of service between April and December of each year.
The Territorial Legislature also provided a means for road builders to gain right-of-way for roads. Legislation in 1867, 1868, and 1883 empowered Boards of County Commissioners to build roads through improved fields for the sake of public convenience, provided landowners filed documents consenting to road construction on their properties.
In 1883, legislation reorganizing township government required townships to designate a road supervisor to manage roads and bridges and to establish road districts. The road supervisor appointed an overseer of highways for each road district in the township to care for roads on the district level. Male residents between the ages of 21 and 50 were assessed $1.50 or one day road tax or road labor annually to provide for road upkeep. Upon petition by the required number of property owners, roads could be built or discontinued provided the township or county advised the public.
Legislation in 1909 authorized the Board of Trustees of Public Property and the State Engineer to operate a Good Road Experimental Station in Bismarck. (S. L. 1909, Ch. 133). The purpose of the Good Road Experimental Station was to determine the most economical method of highway construction in North Dakota. Using convict labor from the State Penitentiary, the Good Road Experimental Station was authorized to construct a road from the Capitol grounds to Fort Lincoln, located south of Bismarck.
The office of the County Superintendent of Highways was created in 1911 (S. L. 1911, Ch. 145) to supervise road construction and maintenance of county roads. Appointed by the Board of County Commissioners, the County Superintendent of Highways superseded the County Road Supervisor and township road supervisors and road overseers. The care of county highways by the County Superintendent of Highways has continued relatively unchanged to this day. Legislation in 1915 allowed for the creation of a Board of Highway Improvements within each county in the state. The Board of Highway Improvements consisted of one member from each road district in the county and the chairmen of the boards of supervisors in the district. Meeting only once each year in February or March, the Board of Highway Improvements was required "to formulate plans and methods for the uniform working and establishing of highways within their county..." and to adopt regulations governing highway and bridge construction. Many other state laws enacted during this period allowed for local taxation to fund road maintenance.
In 1913, the State Legislature created a State Highway Commission consisting of the Governor, State Engineer, and one gubernatorial appointee (S. L. 1913, Ch. 179). The duties of the State Highway Commission were limited to highway planning, supervision of State Highway Commission highway projects, consultation with local governments on highway development, preparation of highway maps, and issuance of bulletins concerning highway construction laws. The State Highway Commission was reorganized in 1917 (S. L. 1917, Ch. 131) and consisted of the Governor, State Engineer, Commissioner of Agriculture and Labor, and two gubernatorial appointees. In addition to the 1913 statutory obligations, the reorganized State Highway Commission had responsibility for statewide road and bridge inspection and providing state aid for construction and maintenance of public roads and bridges. In 1919, the State Highway Commission assumed the responsibility of registering and licensing motor vehicles with creation of the Motor Vehicle Registration Department (S. L. 1919, Ch. 44). Registration of motor vehicles was eventually removed from the Highway Department by creation of an independent Motor Vehicle Department in 1951.
Another reorganization of the State Highway Commission occurred in 1927 (S. L. 1927, Ch. 159). A Department of State Highways was created to construct and maintain the state's highways. The Department of State Highways was under the control of the State Highway Commission, which consisted of the Governor as chairman and two gubernatorial appointees serving four-year terms. The same bill also established a "State Highway System" which was prohibited from exceeding 7,500 miles in length. The State Highway Commission was reorganized again in 1931 (S. L. 1931, Ch. 153) and was composed of three gubernatorial appointees serving three-year terms. One of the Commission members was appointed Chief Highway Commissioner and served as chairman of the Commission and administrative head of the Department of State Highways. The State Highway Commission was repealed in 1933 (S. L. 1933, Ch. 125) and replaced by the State Highway Commissioner. The State Highway Commissioner was appointed by the Governor for a three-year term and headed the Department of State Highways.
The North Dakota State Highway Department was authorized in 1953 (S. L. 1953, Ch. 177) and is administered by a Highway Commissioner appointed by the Governor. The Highway Commissioner is an ex-officio member of the State Historical Board (1967); Outdoor Recreation Interagency Council (1977); Air Pollution Control Advisory Council (1969); Highway Corridor Board (1967), and was a member of the Reciprocity Commission (1967-1971). By the 1980s, the State Highway Department was responsible for planning, construction, and maintenance of the state highway system; bridge inspection; regulation of truck sizes and weights; collection of registration and other highway users fees; prescription of uniform traffic signs; coordination of traffic safety programs; maintenance of a State Motor Pool; and distribution of highway maps.
A Tourist Promotion Bureau was authorized in 1965 (S. L. 1965, Ch. 15) and was transferred to the Economic Development Commission in 1981 (S. L. 1981, Ch. 418). The Truck Regulatory Division was transferred to the State Highway Patrol in 1983 (S. L. 1983, Ch. 418). Currently, the State Highway Department maintains eight district highway offices and garages in Bismarck, Devils Lake, Dickinson, Fargo, Grand Forks, Minot, Valley City, and Williston. The Department is headquartered in the State Highway Building (dedicated in 1968) on the Capitol grounds in Bismarck.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) was created (S. L. 1989, Ch. 72) through a consolidation of the former State Highway Department and Motor Vehicle Department. A liaison relationship with the Aeronautics Commission was also created in 1990. The NDDOT is led by a director appointed by the Governor. The Department has three deputy directors: business support, engineering and operations, and driver and vehicle services. The NDDOT director’s responsibility is to oversee the activities of the department and provide an integrate state highway system, built on sound engineering, with full regard for the interest and well being of the entire state.
1862-1915 Passage of numerous laws providing for local control of roads and highways.
1913 Creation of the State Highway Commission.
1917 The State Highway Commission was reorganized.
1919-1951 The State Highway Department had responsibility for registration of motor vehicles.
1927 Creation of the State Department of Highways under supervision of the State Highway Commissioner; creation of the "State Highway System."
1931 The State Highway Commission was reorganized.
1933 The State Highway Commission was replaced by the State Highway Commissioner.
1953 Creation of the State Highway Department under supervision of the Highway Commissioner.
1965-1981 Creation of the Tourist Promotion Bureau. The Bureau was transferred to the Economic Development Commission in 1981.
1968 Dedication of the State Highway Building.
1983 The Truck Regulatory Division was transferred to the State Highway Patrol.
1990 The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) was created through a consolidation of the former State Highway Department and Motor Vehicle Department. A liaison relationship with the Aeronautics Commission was also created in 1990.
31039 Maintenance Division. Highway Maintenance Reports
31049 Administration. Oral History Transcripts
31843 Information/Administrative Services. Photographs of Governors
32130 Multimedia. Historic A/V Material
32186 Information Technology Division, Aerial Film
Gray, David P. Guide to the North Dakota State Archives, 1985.
612 East Boulevard Ave.
Bismarck, North Dakota 58505
Museum Store: 8am - 5pm M-F; Sat. & Sun. 10am - 5pm.
State Archives: 8am - 4:30pm., M-F, except legal holidays, and 2nd Sat. of each month, 10am - 4:30 pm.
State Historical Society offices: 8am - 5pm M-F, except legal holidays.
phone: (701) 328-2666
fax: (701) 328-3710