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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Photo courtesy of LaNette Simonton

New CDL testing site dedicated on Thursday

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Eastern Montana residents needing a commercial driver’s license can now obtain one much quicker than in the past.

That’s thanks to a new CDL testing site in Sidney.

The LeRoy Ames CDL Testing Site is being officially dedicated July 10. The testing site has been operational since last fall.

Prior to the site’s opening, those wanting a CDL faced a long backlog which could lead to waits of up to three months for testing.

“It’s just amazing how there’s a flow now instead of a backlog,” said LaNette Simonton, eastern regional manager with the Montana Driver’s Licence Bureau.

The former CDL testing site in Sidney was a gravel lot, which posed problems during or after bad weather.

Glendive has a paved, all-weather CDL test site, but the high number of people seeking a CDL had exceeded the licensing bureau’s capacity to test them all in Glendive, creating a testing log jam.

The long CDL backlog bothered Simonton. She said the affect it had on young families who had moved here looking for work in the oilfield troubled her.

“It was just horrible, absolutely horrible. They came in here with their young families, and (a CDL is) their bread and butter, and we tell them we’re sorry, you can’t go to work yet because we can’t get you tested,” Simonton said. “It was just horrible, that’s their livelihood. That was the hardest part of all, telling somebody you have to wait to go to work.”

The long wait for a CDL could also in turn lead to safety issues and law enforcement concerns.

“It’s a law enforcement issue, because a lot of times if these guys can’t get licensed, they’re desperate and they drive anyway without it,” Simonton said.

So three years ago, Simonton rounded up a group of concerned people — including area law enforcement officials — and took the issue to the Richland County Commissioners to see what they could do to help improve the CDL testing situation. 

Richland County Commissioner Duane Mitchell, who  also works for Mitchell Oilfield Services, agrees.

“It just makes good sense to get it done here,” Mitchell said. “And now we’ve got one of the finest facilities in Eastern Montana.”

Three years and $275,000 of Richland County’s money later, the 3.1 acre all-weather site, located at the Richland County Fairgrounds, is open for testing. The new site can handle three CDL tests at once. Simonton said with advance notice, the site can provide group testing for companies, testing up 12 drivers from a single company in a day.

Thanks to a series of agreements, the new CDL testing site will be open for testing regardless of weather. The State of Montana, Richland County and the City of Sidney  have agreed to share maintenance and snow plowing duties at the site.

Simonton said making the new Sidney testing site a reality was possible because the state, county and city worked together from the beginning to make it happen, which she called a “win-win” for the region.

“This is huge for Eastern Montana, for everybody to put their resources together and work together and accomplish this,” she said. “Out here, if you don’t work together, you don’t get anything accomplished.”

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

Get the whole story in the Thursday, July 10, 2014 print issue of the Ranger-Review.
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