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State Highway Commission


T. G. Plomasen was appointed state highway commissioner on this date in 1934. Although the full-time position had only existed for eighteen months, Plomasen was the state's third commissioner. During the 1930s, North Dakota had six different governors within six years, and seven highway commissioners. These turbulent times resulted in a variety of policy changes affecting the creation of the state's modern road system. Ironically, many North Dakotans continued to use horses for transportation during this period. And it was not until the 1940s that tractors completely replaced horses on road maintenance crews.

The state's first license plates were issued in 1911, which was also the first year that a state motor vehicle tax was instituted to pay for road construction. Drivers could choose to pay $1.50 or work on the roads for a day. In 1912, there were 9,000 vehicles in the state; three years later, this number had increased to 40,000.

Although the state engineer recommended the creation of a highway commission as early as 1905, the legislature did not act until 1913, and it appointed Governor Hanna as chairman of the commission. The Commission, however, had only advisory powers and did not receive any funding. In order to obtain federal money, the state was forced to create the State Highway Department in 1917. Composed of the Governor, the Agricultural and Labor Commissioners, and two additional appointees, the Highway Department had more potential to improve the state's roads than the previous commission, but the outbreak of World War I the following year completely halted construction. In 1923, the Department began to use the Indian head marker, modeled after Hunkpapa Sioux member Red Tomahawk, to designate state highways. The following year, the first state highway maps were issued and quickly sold out, requiring a second printing. In fact, by 1925, there were over 130,000 vehicles in the state, nearly fifteen times the number operating only thirteen years earlier.

The Highway Department continued to institute measures dealing with funding, safety, and improvement on the state's infrastructure. Most of the state's bridges were completed during this time, as well as US Highway 10 through the Badlands. Finally, on March 15, 1933, authority over the state's roads was placed into the hands of a full-time state highway commissioner, streamlining continuous improvement of the state's roads. Only four years later, the state won the National Traffic Safety award.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job