Although the level of future federal funding remains uncertain, South Dakota is moving forward with projects in the southeast region, state officials said Wednesday night.
The South Dakota Department of Transportation (SDDOT) is holding a series of regional meetings before the state Transportation Committee makes final decisions on its four-year plan at the August meeting.
Wednesday’s meeting in Sioux Falls covered proposed projects in the Yankton, Mitchell and Sioux Falls areas.
In response to a Press & Dakotan question, Mike Behm, director of the DOT division of planning and engineering, said the DOT doesn’t know what to expect from the current talks in Washington on the new highway bill.
“There isn’t anything set in stone with the infrastructure plans,” he said. “There are variations right now, and there has been some bipartisan support for them. We would love to see it for more construction in South Dakota.”
In his presentation, the DOT’s Mark Leiferman provided an overview of the South Dakota transportation system, including a breakdown of state, county and local roads and bridges.
As a follow-up to the funding question, Leiferman pointed to the state’s heavy reliance on federal dollars.
“About 70% of South Dakota’s highway funding comes through the federal highway bill, which expires in September 2021,” he said. “We receive $2 of federal income for every $1 of fuel tax collected (and sent to Washington).”
While the final figures aren’t known for federal funding, Leiferman said the DOT is working with estimates of anticipated dollars.
“There is some talk in Congress about future highway bills,” he said. “We expect funding from $550 million to the area of $650 million a year. That’s what we’re planning for our programs.”
Leiferman provided an overview of the state’s goals of maintaining a particular percentage of pavement and structures in excellent or good condition.
“Our current structures are designed to be 50-75 years old,” he said. “With 60% of our structures 50-70 years old, we expect to replace more in the future.”
The DOT mission statement calls for a safe and efficient transportation system, Leiferman said. He showed the trends through recent years of serious injuries and fatalities in traffic accidents, not just on state highways but also on county and local systems.
Last year saw a spike in fatalities and serious injuries, with the DOT working to promote greater highway safety, he said.
The DOT’s Tammy Williams spoke on the interconnectedness of the state and local transportation systems, making it possible to carry on everyday life. She provided an overview of the funding options, such as license plate fees and wheel taxes.
Mitchell region engineer Travis Dressen discussed the proposed projects for the southeast quadrant of the state.
“We’re going to make $1.5 billion in investments over the course of the next four years,” he said. “The southeast quarter of the state consists of 22 counties, which are broken into the Yankton, Mitchell and Sioux Falls regions for DOT purposes.”
The Highway 46 improvement project, from U.S. Highway 81 on the west to the South Dakota-Iowa border on the east, will remain an important multi-year project, he said.
“Highway 46 will see a continuation of the improvements being made,” Dressen said.
Other STIP projects for 2022-25 include Highway 46 at Wagner, U.S. Highway 81 and Highway 50 at Yankton, Highway 50 in the Tyndall-Tabor area and work on Highways 52 and 37 in the Springfield area.
“Highway 46 will see a continuation of the improvements being made,” he said.
Behm commented on the growth in South Dakota transportation projects.
“Travis said we would be spending $1.5 billion on his projects during the next four year,” Behm said. “When I started 20 years ago (with the DOT), that would have been 12-15 years of work statewide.”
Audience members brought up a number of concerns and suggestion for future projects.
Ed Van Gerpen of Avon, former state legislator and current Bon Homme County commissioner, sought the construction of a turn lane on Highway 50 entering Avon’s main street.
Former state legislator Frank Kloucek of Scotland asked for wider shoulders for Highway 25 leading up to Highway 18 in the Scotland area. He related a story of a family member who was passing a tractor-trailer and was concerned whether the highway contained enough room.
Kloucek also asked for additional turn lanes for the Utica and Lesterville exits on Highways 81 and 50 in Yankton County.
He also supported the request for a Highway 50 turn lane at Avon and consideration of a four-lane Highway 50 at Wagner instead of a three-lane highway using two lanes and a center turn lane.
Behm said the DOT has been working with Wagner city officials on the project in order to find a solution for the local traffic needs.
Other suggestions from unidentified audience members included concerns about the dips in Highway 44 from Marion to Parker and a request for more advance warning near the Highway 46-37 intersection.
“The good thing is that folks are stopping (for the intersection),” Behm said.
Another suggestion called for a climbing lane near Springfield.
During the meeting, Behm recognized two audience members — District 21 Rep. Caleb Finck (R-Tripp) and Transportation Commission member (and former state lawmaker) Mike Vehle — for their contributions to state transportation issues in the Legislature.
The SDDOT is asking for public comments by Aug. 3, Behm said. The comments can be sent by mail or email for the South Dakota Transportation Committee to consider for their finalized STIP decisions in August.
In his remarks, Behm stressed the importance of interconnectedness.
“Can you find anything here that’s not brought by a truck? Is there anything?” he asked. “We’re emphasizing how to make life better with better transportation throughout the state.”
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