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2023 Transportation Conference Brings Value for County Road Departments

Posted: May 19, 2023

The North Dakota Transportation Conference has become the go-to conference for local road professionals across the state who want to network and learn about the latest in road and bridge technology and policies.

"If you are only going to one transportation conference a year this is the one to attend," said Jason Johnston, Walsh County Highway Superintendent.

This year, more than 800 transportation professionals attended the two-day conference in March at the Bismarck Event Center. Employees from county, tribal, and city agencies attended to learn and network with colleagues from the ND Department of Transportation (NDDOT), the Federal Highway Administration, engineering companies, contracting firms, and equipment and material suppliers. The conference was organized and presented by the NDOT in partnership with the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute (UGPTI) at North Dakota State University.

"Over the past two years, we've worked with the NDDOT in a concerted effort to bring together all of the players in North Dakota transportation at a single conference," said Dale Heglund, director of UGPTI's ND Local Technical Assistance Program. "Our goal in doing so was to be able to enhance the educational offerings to attendees and provide a premier opportunity for all those players to network."

Brady Haussler, the NDDOT transportation engineer who spearheaded the conference planning for his agency, emphasized the conference theme, "Driving Change Together."

"Our theme is partnerships, and we specifically designed breakout sessions for county staff and others that we wanted to attend," Haussler said. "A major focus for this conference was to help attendees establish connections and build bridges – not just physical bridges, but relationship bridges."

That goal has been met, according to Cass County Engineer Jason Benson. "The new format has really re-energized the conference," he said. "In particular, the interaction during breaks has been really valuable. There are great opportunities to make connections and it's always good to have discussions about common problems and issues. For some problems, you can really save a lot of headaches by talking through how somebody else came up with a solution."

Johnston agreed, noting, "The networking potential is nearly unlimited. You won't be able to speak with everyone. Bring more than one person from your department to get the most out of the conference."

Benson brought four others from Cass County's staff to the conference. "Having the new format with breakout sessions is extremely helpful. If only one person from a county can attend, you can choose from the sessions that best suit the needs of the county. But if you bring multiple people to the conference, you can spread out and really bring a lot more value home from the event."

Overall, there were 28 attendees from North Dakota counties at the event. Highlights for Benson included opening remarks from ND Governor Doug Burgum and the presentation on "The Power of Sustainovation" by keynote speaker Nick Kittle, a nationally known thought leader, coach, and facilitator specializing in government innovation. Kittle began his career in local government.

Benson also highlighted the value of technical sessions on roads and bridges that allowed him to fulfill professional development hour requirements while picking up important information that can be used on the job in Cass County.

In particular, he noted the value of presentation by UGPTI road and bridge engineer Kelly Bengtson on UGPTI's report to the ND Legislature, "Infrastructure Needs: North Dakota's County, Township, and Tribal Roads and Bridges: 2022-2041."

"I had read the report, but it was nice to get some face-to-face discussion with Kelly to learn more about the study and how it was conducted," Benson said.

Haussler noted that a session on state and local public agency partnerships was particularly well-attended. The session focused on the creative and innovative ways agencies can collaborate to achieve a common goal and on finding efficiencies that benefit each organization and the public. The session included presenters from NDDOT, the city of Bismarck and the Cass County Highway Department.

Overall, there were nearly 40 presentations at the conference, including a panel discussion on bridges, an outline of ND's electric vehicle plan, a panel discussion on working with tribal governments, Vision Zero topics, sustainability, pavement performance, and many others.

"We're so excited about how this conference has taken off," Heglund said. "One of the vendors on the exhibit floor told me that in only two years this has become one of the top conferences for him to attend across the country."

"We're proud to partner with the NDDOT to provide a world-class conference for the transportation industry in North Dakota," added Jody Jones, the administrative assistant with NDLTAP who lead UGPTI efforts in planning the program.

The exhibit floor included nearly 60 exhibitors along with several large, specialized pieces of NDDOT equipment. Exhibitors included engineering companies like KLJ, Collins Engineering, and HDR; equipment suppliers like Swanston Equipment, Subsurface Inc., and RDO Equipment, Co.; and material and service providers like Tensar, TrueNorth Steel, Seykora Asphalt, 95 West Aerial Mapping, 3M Company Sign Solutions, and Infrasense; and numerous others.

"The goal of all the agencies that attend this conference is the same in the end: to provide safe, efficient and effective transportation solutions to the public," Haussler said. "That's why it's important to have all of the partners there."

Haussler added, "We're confident that more of our partners from counties and other agencies and companies will make more of a showing in the future based on the value we have been able to provide. We're going to listen to them to continue to add content and do better in the future."

Mark your calendar for the 2024 conference at the Bismarck Event Center March 5-6.

NDSU Dept 2880P.O. Box 6050Fargo, ND 58108-6050