2001 - Present


  • Governor Doug Burgum appointed Thomas Sorel as NDDOT Director in August of 2017.
  • Ronald Henke was named Interim Director from June 6 of 2017 to August of 2017.
  • North Dakota’s transportation system is an essential element in the state’s economy as it moves commodities and products. 2017 is a momentous year for the Department as it celebrates its 100 year anniversary. The State Highway Commission was originally established in the spring 1917 when the Commission met for the first time and began planning our state highway system.
  • From the beginning, the NDDDOT has relied on dedicated workers to build and maintain highways where only dirt trails existed before. Today the state has over 107,000 miles of roadway. A century later, the NDDOT is celebrating the achievements made to our transportation infrastructure and continues to work hard to maintain a top quality highway system across the state. The Department now moves forward into the next century of service as we provide a quality transportation system that safely moves people and goods.


  • The department worked on a large construction program across the state which included building two roundabouts - one east of Watford City on ND 23 and ND 73, and one near Fairview on ND 200 and ND 58.
  • The NDDOT issued a new flat license plate, called the Sunrise Plate. The new flat plate replaced the embossed Buffalo Plate and Lewis and Clark Plate. The Buffalo Plate had been used for 23 years. The new plate design was created with actual photos taken in North Dakota. The NDDOT worked with Tourism, Highway Patrol and Roughrider Industries to design and select the new plate, which encompasses the history and tradition of North Dakota. The new license plate replacement process will occur from November 2015 to June 2017.


  • NDDOT worked on four-laning US 85 between Watford City and Williston; constructed several truck bypasses and truck reliever routes around the communities of Alexander, Dickinson, New Town, Watford City and Williston.
  • The department also renewed nearly one million vehicle registrations.


  • Governor Jack Dalrymple appointed Grant Levi as the new NDDOT Director.
  • The 2013 construction program is estimated to bid out approximately $878 million in infrastructure projects across the state, making it the largest construction program in state history.
  • NDDOT launched a County Safety program to provide additional safety measures on rural roads. The safety program provides funding for implementation of safety measures that may include: enhanced signing for road curves; upgraded signing or pavement markings to improve visibility of intersections; larger regulatory or warning signs, and intersection warning rumble strips.


  • Completed temporary bypasses on the northwest side and northeast side of Williston.
  • Also, completed first roundabout project on a state highway on ND 22 near Killdeer.


  • Construction was conducted for the US 85 Super 2 Project, with intermittent passing and turning lanes, between Watford City and Williston.


  • The Drayton-Robbin Bridge crossing the Red River near Drayton was completed.
  • The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) launched a new law enforcement program across the state called the Regional Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Task Force in an effort to deter drunk driving throughout North Dakota.


  • The NDDOT launched the new NDteendrivers.com Web site aimed at informing teens about safe driving habits.
  • North Dakota Department of Transportation Launches New Online Registry for Organ and Tissue Donors.


  • The NDDOT completed the four-laning of US Highway 2 between Williston and Minot with a total of 97 miles of four-lane highway added to the system when the project was finished in October 2008.
  • The new Liberty Memorial Bridge in Bismarck-Mandan was completed in November 2008.


  • The I-29 reconstruction projects through the Fargo corridor were completed in 2007.
  • The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) was awarded the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Environmental Excellence Award in the Cultural and Historical Resources category for the “Scattered Village Exhibit and Curriculum Project.”


  • Ground is broken for the construction of a new Liberty Memorial Bridge between Bismarck and Mandan on June 12.
  • Deputy Director for Engineering Grant Levi named interim NDDOT Director on August 26.
  • Francis G. Ziegler named NDDOT Director on October 4.


  • Four Bears Bridge is completed near New Town.
  • US 281 in the Devils Lake Basin is moved approximately three miles west and ND 19 is extended to tie into the new roadway. The move was necessary due to flooding.
  • The Legislature authorizes NDDOT to use bonding to help finance the four-laning of US 2 from Minot to Williston and to replace the Memorial Bridge between Bismarck and Mandan. This is the first time that NDDOT has issued bonds to finance a transportation project.


  • Finalized the Highway Performance Classification System, which was endorsed by the North Dakota Legislature during the 2005 session.
  • The state tourist map is updated with a larger size, larger city insets, a new format and color scheme and higher quality paper.


  • North Dakota’s first sound barrier wall, on I-94 through the city of Fargo, is completed.
  • Ground is broken for construction of a new Four Bears Bridge near New Town. The project was the biggest ever attempted by NDDOT at $55 million.
  • North Dakota 511 travel information goes online.


  • North Dakota’s first Statewide Strategic Transportation Plan, TransAction II, is completed and introduced by Governor John Hoeven and NDDOT Director David Sprynczynatyk.


  • Newly elected Gov. John Hoeven names new DOT Director David Sprynczynatyk to lead the effort to create a Statewide Strategic Transportation Plan involving all government jurisdictions, all modes of transportation, and the public.

1981 - 2000


  • Marshall W. Moore leaves Department of Transportation. His tenure is the second-longest in NDDOT history.
  • Tom D. Freier named interim NDDOT Director on March 2.
  • A reconstruction of I-29 through the city of Fargo begins. The reconstruction is aimed at increasing capacity and improving roadway conditions. The project is expected to be completed in 2009.


  • After months of working with consultant, department issues its first strategic business plan.
  • The number of automobiles registered in North Dakota reaches 364,743.


  • The University of North Dakota secures funding through the Federal Highway Administration to work with the North Dakota Department of Transportation to construct, test, and develop a proof of concept of an Advanced Traveler Information System.


  • Marshall W. Moore named NDDOT Director on January 4.


  • ND Highway Department became Department of Transportation. Motor Vehicle Department merged into NDDOT as Motor Vehicle Division.


  • Walter R. Hjelle retires after a total of 25 years as Highway Department director (1961-1983 and 1986-1988), the longest tenure in department history.
  • Richard J. Backes is named State Highway Commissioner on January 16.


  • North Dakota issues centennial plates to commemorate the state's 1989 centennial.


  • Walter R. Hjelle is named State Highway Commissioner for the second time on January 14.


  • Duane R. Liffrig is named State Highway Commissioner on January 1.

1961 - 1980


  • With completion of Interstate, department need changed from construction to maintenance. This philosophy exists to the present day.


  • ND first state in union to let contract for final stretch of Interstate (I-29 between Drayton and Pembina).
  • ND becomes first state to complete its assigned Interstate mileage.
  • 500,000 vehicles travel 4.5 billion miles on hard-surface highways built for 70 miles per hour.


  • The Public Information Division is renamed the Community Affairs Division.


  • The Safety Responsibility Division is renamed the Drivers License Division.
  • State Penitentiary stops manufacturing license plates.


  • All series of license plates use the same color combination – green on reflective white – for the first time.


  • The Lewis and Clark Bridge at Williston is demolished and replaced with a new bridge.


  • North Dakota begins reserving certain plate numbers for law enforcement.


  • Highway Building on capitol grounds completed.


  • The Federal Highway Safety Act is passed requiring all states to have a traffic safety program approved by the Secretary of Commerce.
  • The ground is broken on a new State Highway Department office building.


  • The state is able to issue driver licenses by computer for the first time.
  • Adhesive license tabs replace metal license tabs.
  • North Dakota begins selling “vanity” plates.


  • The Travel Division is added to the State Highway Department.
  • First aluminum license plates are issued.


  • Walter R. Hjelle is named State Highway Commissioner on January 3.

1941 - 1960


  • 20.2 miles of I-94 are completed from the Minnesota border to Casselton


  • 48.1 miles of I-94 are completed between Jamestown and Dawson.
  • The first section of I-29, a 33.9 mile stretch from the Canadian border to Drayton, is completed.


  • 36.8 miles of I-94 are completed between Valley City and Jamestown
  • North Dakota license plates become reflective for the first time.
  • First Ham Radio plates issued.
  • Metal tabs are used to cover the year for the first time.


  • A.W. Wentz is named State Highway Commissioner on April 1.


  • Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 is passed. The act allows for a national highway system of 41,000 miles.
  • First Interstate contracts in ND let for section of U.S. 10 between Valley City and Jamestown.
  • State highway departments are required to hold public hearings regarding the effects of highway construction on people’s lives for federal aid projects for the first time.
  • “Peace Garden State” first appears on North Dakota license plates.
  • License plates become a standard 6 X 12 inches.


  • People traveled an estimated 2.3 billion miles. This number would double in the next 20 years.


  • In the 15 years from 1937 – 1952 traffic doubled and motor vehicle registrations increased by 121,000.
  • Between 1936 and 1952 the number of miles driven by truckers increases from 183 to 540 million miles.


  • M.P. Wynkoop is named State Highway Commissioner on January 2.
  • S.W. Thompson is named State Highway Commissioner on May 1.
  • Highway Patrol becomes a separate agency under the governor.
  • North Dakota’s hard surface mileage is increased to 2,329 miles.
  • 2.1 billion miles are logged by drivers in North Dakota. Of those miles, 84 percent took place in rural areas.
  • 2,815 miles of roadway are earth-graded in North Dakota – 10 of which were paved and 1,338 of which were graveled.
  • The Motor Vehicle Department is established to administer motor vehicle registration requirements.


  • 1949 North Dakota begins issuing Disabled Veteran license plates.


  • An examination is required for driver licensing for the first time.
  • The Department of Defense and state highway departments determine the routes for an interstate highway network.
  • Legislature created state highway fund to partially match federal aid.


  • N.O. Jones is named State Highway Commissioner on April 2.
  • The estimated cost for an adequate restoration of North Dakota’s roadways reaches $78 million.
  • Soldiers returning from Germany cited Autobahn, with its high speeds and controlled access, as model for highway design. This led to Interstate program.


  • Federal Aid Highway Act of 1944 is passed. $1.5 billion is appropriated for the modernization of the nation’s highways over a three-year period. Act also authorizes a national system of interstate highways.


  • First pioneer plate issued.


  • The condition of North Dakota’s roadways decreases as resources and materials are directed to wartime production.


  • United States enters World War II. Many Highway Department employees leave for military service.
  • Average tax cost to motorists for using North Dakota roadways is 33 cents per 100 miles, last in the U.S.

1921 - 1940


  • The state highway system consists 7,350 miles of graded roadway. Gravel covered 4,500 miles, asphalt covered 1,670 miles and concrete covered 46 miles.


  • During World War II, shortage of highway materials.
  • Many highway engineers and other employees left for armed services.


  • J.S. Lamb is named State Highway Commissioner on January 18.
  • Gas tax is raised to four cents per gallon.


  • P.H. McGurren is named State Highway Commissioner on January 19.
  • Highway Department adds a safety engineer responsible for decreasing traffic fatalities.
  • Traffic fatalities were reduced from 132 in 1936 to 116 in 1937.
  • North Dakota wins the National Traffic Safety Contest for the mid-western region.


  • Standard right-of-way purchases increase to 200 feet.
  • North Dakota has only 850 miles of hard-surfaced roads, less than any other state in the nation.


  • Highway Department receives $6 million in relief funds for road work through the Works Progress Administration (WPA). It was required that $3 million of this money be spent on labor based on the minimum wage of 40 cents per hour.
  • Motor vehicle license fees are divided between the State Highway Department and the counties.
  • Last steamboat runs on the Missouri River in North Dakota


  • Ole H. Olsen is named State Highway Commissioner on January 17.
  • W.J. Flannigan is named State Highway Commissioner on April 21.
  • Highway Patrol is created and placed under the authority of the Highway Commissioner.
  • State legislature requires drivers to be licensed for the first time. To receive a license, one had to be over the age of 16 and pay a small fee. No test was required.


  • Bert M. Salisbury is named State Highway Commissioner on July 21.
  • T.G. Plomasen is named State Highway Commissioner on September 13.
  • The first North Dakota-made license plates are made at the State Penitentiary in Bismarck.


  • Federal government finances 100 percent of road projects in North Dakota.


  • Motor vehicle license fees are diverted from the State Highway Department to the Real Estate Bond Interest Fund for payment of interest on the bonds.


  • Legislature increases total mileage on the state highway system to 7,700 miles.
  • Special legislative bridge fund is eliminated.
  • The Highway Commission’s two part-time commissioners are removed and all responsibility is placed on one commissioner.
  • F.A. Vogel is named State Highway Commissioner on March 15.


  • A traffic survey reveals that traffic has decreased 20 percent since 1930.Out-of-state traffic decreased 40 percent during the same time.
  • State Highway Department urges contractors to work their men only eight hours per day so that more men may be employed.
  • Daily broadcasts of road conditions are made over the radio for the first time.


  • During Depression, department employed thousands with federal relief funds.
  • In six years in the 1930s, under six governors, seven men served as highway commissioner.
  • The Highway Department begins using higher grades to allow for easier road cleaning in the winter.
  • Highway Department first acquires snow removal equipment.
  • The state highway system is about half completed. Total earth-graded mileage is 4,300 miles of which 2,800 were surfaced. The only rural pavement in the state is a seven-mile stretch between Bismarck and Mandan.
  • Federal Aid is increased from $1.2 million to $2 million, but North Dakota is unable to match the funds.
  • Curve radius on state highways is increased to 573 feet.
  • Grade elevation is increased to 12 feet above surrounding land, where possible.
  • A traffic survey reveals a decrease in traffic for the first time.
  • The state Capitol building burns, destroying the Highway Department’s offices. Temporary offices were set up and 20 employees were back at work re-creating plans by noon the next day.
  • The Maintenance Division creates a “nail picker” with three large electro-magnets and a generator on a truck chassis. The nail picker toured North Dakota roads in the 1930’s picking up nails and other metal objects.
  • Legislature limits total mileage on the state highway system to 7,600 miles.
  • Construction work employed over 2,000 men during the summer months at an average wage of $3.00 per day.
  • The legislature removes the governor from the Highway Commission and puts a full-time chief commissioner in his place.


  • North Dakota ranks third in the nation with 4,300 miles of federal aid highways constructed.
  • Highway Commission decides to reduce new construction to improve existing highways.


  • US 10 is completed through the badlands. The highway cost $6,212 per mile.
  • State Highway Commission begins paying half the cost for right-of-way purchases. The counties paid the other half of the cost.
  • A traffic survey, in which automatic equipment was used for the first time, determines that traffic has doubled since 1925. The Liberty Memorial Bridge remains the state’s busiest roadway stretch.


  • The Lewis and Clark Bridge, crossing the Missouri River at Williston, is completed.
  • The Verendrye Bridge, crossing the Missouri River at Sanish, is completed.
  • The five person State Highway Commission is abolished in favor of a three-person commission. The commission was headed by the governor who appointed the other two members to staggered four-year terms.
  • H.C. Frahm named first Chief Engineer of the North Dakota Highway Department.
  • The Highway Department becomes the first state agency to use electronic date-processing equipment.
  • 2,815 miles of roadway are earth-graded in North Dakota – 10 of which were paved and 1,338 of which were graveled.
  • Maintenance Division first places US shield signs on national highways in North Dakota.


  • A state safety conference is held to find ways to decrease traffic fatalities – The North Dakota Safety Council is organized.
  • The cost of paving a 20-foot-wide section of roadway is $30,000 per mile.
  • Scoria is first used as surfacing on the portion of US 10 west of Belfield.
  • The first asphalt surface put on a state highway is on a 7.5 mile stretch of US 10 near Casselton.


  • Surplus war material still owned by the State Highway Department is sold. The department makes $10,000 in profits.
  • There are 130,000 autos in the state.
  • Legislature created state highway fund to partially match federal aid.
  • A seven-mile stretch of US 10 between Bismarck and Mandan becomes the longest continuous stretch of pavement in North Dakota. The distinction lasts for several years.
  • State Highway Department first starts to do its own maintenance work. Prior to this, all maintenance work was done by the counties.
  • State Highway Department conducts its first traffic survey. It is determined that the heaviest traffic in the state was on the Liberty Memorial Bridge at 3,036 vehicles per day.
  • The Highway Marking Division becomes part of the Maintenance Division.
  • The Joint Board on Interstate Highways meets to designate and number transcontinental highways. US 2, US 10 (now I-94), US 12 and US 81 (now I-29) run through North Dakota. Two new highways, US 85 and US 83 are also designated.


  • The Highway Department prepares and prints 5,000 copies of a state highway map. The map was so popular that the department had to print an additional 2,000 copies.
  • Highway Department establishes a materials testing lab.


  • Truck license plates are issued as a separate series for the first time.
  • North Dakota becomes one of the first states to work out a uniform system for numbering and marking state highways.
  • The Indian head marker is first used to designate state highways. The marker was modeled after Red Tomahawk, a Hunkpapa Sioux from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
  • Motor vehicle registrations in North Dakota top 100,000 for the first time.


  • The Liberty Memorial Bridge, crossing the Missouri River between Bismarck and Mandan, is completed.
  • Construction completed on more than 1,000 miles of state highway: 20 were graveled; the rest were only earth-graded.


  • Congress approves an increase in federal road aid that gives North Dakota $1.2 million annually.
  • North Dakota has 106,202 miles of public roads – 7,434 of which were eligible for federal aid.
  • North Dakota ranked seventh in the nation in total road mileage.

1901 - 1920


  • Gasoline tractors gradually begin to replace horses as power on road equipment. Horses, however would remain a fixture on road projects until the 1940’s.
  • Major improvements are made in bridge construction.
  • Four major bridges, the Interstate Bridge at Pembina, the Sorlie Memorial Bridge at Grand Forks and new bridges at Fargo and Wahpeton, are built over the Red River.
  • The Good Roads Association is formed to press for a system of good highways connecting the state’s county seats.
  • 91,000 automobiles are registered in North Dakota.
  • State Highway Department contracts for over 300 miles of construction at a cost of $2 million.


  • Motor Vehicle Registration Department is created under the jurisdiction of the Highway Commission.
  • Registration fees changed to be based on selling price, horsepower and weight
  • State Highway Commission is granted the authority to secure rights-of-way and supervise the maintenance of the entire highway system.
  • State Legislature appropriates a budget of 130,750 for the State Highway Department.
  • A special legislative budget is created to set aside $130,000 annually from motor vehicle license fees for bridge construction.


  • Road construction was halted due to World War I.
  • Surplus war equipment is given to the State Highway Department at the conclusion of World War I. The equipment is in poor condition and requires extensive repairs.
  • Contractors working on state highway projects are recommended to have two traction engines, one elevating grader, one 12-foot blade grader, 40 head of horses, six to eight fresnos, 15 one-and-one-half cubic yard dump wagons, two tank wagons for water, two grain tanks, two hay wagons, three breaking plows and tools.


  • To get newly available federal funds, ND abolished old commission, created new five-member body: governor as chairman, commissioners of agriculture and labor, and two members appointed by governor. Commission is referred to as the State Highway Department.
  • A tentative plan for a state highway system is laid out.
  • State Highway Commission submits projects for federal aid in 27 counties and begins surveying.
  • Motor vehicle tax is increased to a minimum of $6.50 plus 50 cents for each horsepower over 20.
  • The State Highway Commission publishes the first North Dakota Highway Bulletin to communicate with the public.


  • $2.5 million in property taxes and $112,000 in motor vehicle taxes is collected to finance public roads.
  • Federal Aid Road Act appropriates $75 million to the states over a five-year period for road improvement.


  • There are 40,000 autos in the state.


  • State engineer required to examine or prepare any plans for a bridge or box culvert by request.
  • First State Highway Commission formed with Gov. L.B. Hanna as chairman, State Engineer Jay W. Bliss as secretary and appointee C.A. Grow. No extra compensation. Commission’s role is advisory.
  • Private organizations are authorized to work on roads with the approval of the county commissioners.


  • Congress establishes the Joint Committee on Federal Aid in the Construction of Post Roads to study the condition of the nation’s highways.
  • There are 9,000 autos in North Dakota.


  • State legislature requires state engineer to furnish information on road construction to any county superintendent of highways.
  • State legislature requires all automobiles to be registered. Registration cost $3 per vehicle. 7,201 vehicles are registered.
  • First license plates issued.
  • First motor vehicle tax instituted to augment road funds. Prior to this, the only source of road funding was personal property tax. Male adults are given the option of working on the roads for one day in lieu of paying the $1.50 tax.


  • Legislature establishes a good roads experiment station. The state engineer was to be in charge of construction and convict labor from the state penitentiary was to be used.


  • State Engineer A.L. Fellows recommends North Dakota create a highway commission in his 1905-1905 Biennial Report.


  • Public Roads Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture finds 59,332 miles of public roads in North Dakota, of which 205 were surfaced with gravel and seven were surfaced with stone.
  • Road expenditures in North Dakota reach $550,340

1801 - 1900


  • State legislature recognizes a grid pattern organized by section and quarter-section lines for the development of roads.
  • County commissioners and township boards given the authority to determine the location of roads and purchase equipment for road improvement.


  • Rail mileage in North Dakota reaches 2,507 miles.
  • North Dakota’s population reaches 200,000.


  • North Dakota becomes the 39th state on November 2, 1889.


  • Great Northern Railroad reaches Minot.


  • Main Northern Pacific lines are finished across southern North Dakota.
  • Great Northern Railroad begins construction in northern North Dakota.


  • Northern Pacific Railroad arrives in Bismarck.


  • Northern Pacific Railroad arrives in Fargo.


  • Four-horse stage lines become common in the Dakotas.


  • Military posts are built in the Dakotas.


  • The Sioux Ferry was one of the last ferries used on the Missouri River. The Ferry was built by Oscar Anderson and took its maiden voyage on Memorial Day 1852. The ferry operated until 1962.


  • Joseph Rollette hauls buffalo robes and pemmican from Pembina to St. Paul on wooden overland carts.
  • The approximately 500-mile trip took about a month. The trail route along the Red River would eventually be used as the path for I-29.


  • Steamboating on the upper Missouri begins when the American Fur Company’s Yellowstone reaches Fort Union.


  • Alexander Henry establishes a North West trading post in Pembina.
  • Overland carts begin making trips to and from Pembina for trade.


  • Meriwether Lewis and William Clark winter in North Dakota on their way to the Pacific.

1700 - 1800


  • David Thompson does the first surveying in North Dakota. He created the first reliable maps of the state’s rivers and terrain. (David Thompson was originally from London, England, he came across the Atlantic at the young age of 14 to work for the Hudson's Bay Company in 1784.) (photo courtesy of the National Park Service)


  • Verendrye’s sons enter North Dakota on the same quest.


  • Montreal merchant and explorer Pierre Verendrye makes the earliest recorded entrance by an explorer into what is now North Dakota while looking to find an all-water route to the Pacific Ocean.