PIERRE — The Yankton region is scheduled for millions of dollars in highway and bridge improvements during the next four years, according to the South Dakota Department of Transportation (SDDOT).
Those projects include major work on U.S. Highways 81 and 18 along with state highways and bridges in and around Yankton. However, this year’s pandemic and recession — along with the backlog from last year’s flooding — have created uncertainty on state and federal funding.
With that in mind, the state’s residents are urged to comment by the July 28 deadline on the proposed Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).
“We want time to compile comments and to make our recommendations by the August meeting of the state Transportation Commission, when they finalize decisions on the 2021-24 STIP,” said Mike Behm, the SDDOT director of planning and engineering.
The pandemic placed a major hit on the state’s gas and vehicle excise taxes earlier this year, Behm said. Travel plummeted as many residents worked at home, schools and businesses were closed, and events were canceled.
In other cases, travelers postponed vacations and other trips.
“Folks have stayed at home, and traffic dropped 30-40% during the April time frame,” he said. “The number is rebounding, but it’s still 15-20% lower than last year.”
The current revenue numbers have returned to the levels of last year at this time. “We’re taking the approach that we’ll be rebounding traffic volume,” he added.
However, the unpredictability of the pandemic could create major problems later this year, Behm said.
“If we get a second wave or something of that magnitude, we may see any drop in traffic like the April-May time frame,” he said. “If so, we may need to make changes in the next construction program.”
Even if other traffic drops, the pandemic showed the importance of dependable roads to maintain the supply chain, Behm said.
“While (overall) traffic might have been lower, trucks were still there (on the road). Trucks deliver most of the things to us. There’s not much that’s parachuted into South Dakota,” he said. “Truck drivers did an awesome job, and the transportation system worked. If you know a truck driver, thank them. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have what we need.”
The SDDOT is seeking more information on state funding and any federal stimulus packages, Behm said. South Dakota’s infrastructure needs won’t go away and must remain focused on both the short- and long-term future, he said.
“We need to continue to build through the summer and through the years, making better lives (for all of us) through better transportation,” he said. “If we don’t try to maintain and have a safe, reliable system, the rest of our life can erode away quickly.”
South Dakota has 82,501 miles of roadway, with that number including 7,794 miles of state highways maintained by the DOT. While accounting for only 9.4% of the total mileage, the state highway system carries approximately 68% of all vehicle miles traveled.
When it comes to infrastructure, South Dakota’s investment portfolio includes capital, federal aid and state aid.
At the federal level, the FAST Act expires in September. Federal aid accounts for 70% of South Dakota’s construction programs. The rest comes from the state highway trust fund, which is funded with the fuel tax and the vehicle excise tax.
With federal funding, the state must still match those dollars, according to Mark Leiferman, the SDDOT project development program manager.
The federal funds carry with them an 80-20 match with the state for non-interstate projects and a 90-10 match for interstate projects.
In recent years, the SDDOT has undertaken a maintenance approach rather than launching major construction projects, except in areas of new growth.
“The pavement conditions vary with the age of the road. They are subject to years of traffic and weather, making for deterioration,” Leiferman said. “When the roads reach poor conditions, then we’re faced with major decisions.”
South Dakota’s strategic goal calls for keeping the majority of roads in excellent condition, where it costs $25,000 per mile to chip seal, Leiferman said.
“Rehabilitation and surfacing to extend the life of the pavement costs $150,000-250,000 per mile,” he said. “If we need to consider full reconstruction, the cost rises to $1.5-2 million per mile.”
The tentative STIP covers fiscal years 2021-24. During a recent webinar, the SDDOT officials provided an overview of major projects in each region. The full list of proposed projects can be found on the agency’s website.
• Bon Homme County, 13.6 total miles of improvements to SD Highway 52 from SD Highway 37 to SD Highway 50 and SD Highway 37 to the west Springfield city limits; estimated total cost of $6 million.
• Charles Mix County, 1.9 miles of U.S. Highway 18 from 0.8 miles north of Pickstown over St. Francis Bay, and U.S. 18 from Pickstown to Lake Andes, which includes bridge replacement, approach and spot grading, pipe work, interim surfacing and modifying the intersection; estimated total cost of $6.3 million
• Clay County, 4.8 miles of SD 50 from the divided lanes west of Vermillion to the divided lanes east of Vermillion, with grading, mill, surfacing, lighting and bridge repair at an estimated total cost of $7.9 million
• Douglas/Hutchinson counties, 17.9 miles of SD Highway 44 from the east junction of US Highway 281 to SD Highway 37 at Parkston, involving shoulder widening, AC surfacing of shoulders, pipe work, extension of culvert, bridge approach and guard rail; estimated total cost of $15.4 million
• Hutchinson County, 11.7 miles of U.S. Highway 18 (with the exception of no work in Menno) from east of the James River to U.S. Highway 18, involving shoulder widening, spot grading and pipe work; total estimated cost of $11 million
Other projects include traffic signals in Yankton for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad for $300,000; and pipe work at various locations throughout the Yankton area for $260,000.
• Bon Homme/Charles Mix counties, 20.7 miles of SD Highway 46 from Wagner to SD 37/50, from the east junction with SD 46 towards Avon; mill, full-depth reclamation, AC surfacing, pipe work and intersection modification; estimated total cost of $12.6 million
• Bon Homme, 11 miles of SD Highway 50 from one mile west of Tyndall through Tabor, with mill, AC surfacing and pipe work; estimated total cost of $4.9 million
• Charles Mix, 6.4 miles of US Highway 18 from Pickstown to Lake Andes, mill, AC resurfacing; total estimated cost of $2.8 million
• Union County, 15.2 miles of SD Highway 46 work in the Beresford area with grading, interim surfacing, replace/repair, Str RCBC, signal, crossing surface; estimated total cost of $27 million
• Yankton County, 12 miles of SD Highway 46 from US Highway 81 to Irene with grading, interim surfacing, replacement of structures and lighting at the US81/SD46 junction; estimated total cost of $24 million
• Charles Mix County, 1.7 miles of SD 46 in Wagner with grading, surfacing, storm sewer, curb and gutter, sidewalk, lighting and signals (construction planned for 2023 and 2024); estimated total cost of $11.2 million
• Douglas/Hutchinson counties, 17.8 miles of SD Highway 44 from the east junction of US Highway 281 to SD Highway 37 at Parkston with mill and AC resurfacing; estimated total cost of $6 million
• Hutchinson County, 13.5 miles of US Highway 18 from Olivet to US Highway 81 with mill and AC resurfacing; total estimated cost of $3.4 million
• Turner County, 8 miles of SD Highway 19 from US Highway 18 to the south junction of SD Highway 44 with mill, AC resurfacing and pipe work; estimated total cost of $3.1 million
• Union County, 10.4 miles of I-29 (northbound and southbound lanes) from Exit 26 hear Vermillion and north for 10 miles with AC resurfacing, extension of STR RCBC and pipe work; estimated total cost of $12.4 million
• Union County, 20.1 miles of SD Highway 46 and SD Highway 11 work in the Beresford-Alcester area with AC surfacing, mill, AC resurfacing and pipe work; estimated total cost of $10.5 million
• Yankton County, 3.4 miles of US Highway 81from the end of the divided lanes to 303rd Street north of Yankton for grading, replacement of a structural bridge and interim surfacing; estimated total cost of $10.7 million
• Yankton County, 10 miles of SD Highway 52 from the west junction of SD Highway 50 south for nearly 5 miles and from near Gavins State Park entrance to Yankton with shoulder widening and AC resurfacing; estimated total cost of $8.7 million
• Yankton County, 12 miles of SD Highway 46 from US Highway 81 to Irene with AC surfacing; estimated total cost of $8.7 million
• Bon Homme County, 12 miles of SD Highway 37 from SD Highway 50 to the Bon Homme/Hutchinson county line with mill, AC resurfacing and pipe work; estimated total cost of $3.9 million
• Union County with work on I-29 three miles south of Beresford with replacement of a structural bridge and approach grading; total estimated cost of $3.5 million
• Yankton County, signals for nearly 2 miles of US Highway 81 from SD Highway 50 to 23rd Street in Yankton; estimated total cost of nearly $3 million
• Yankton County, nearly 8 miles of work on the northbound and southbound lanes of US Highway 81, from the north SD Highway 50 junction to the end fo the divided lanes and from the end of the divided lanes to 303rd Street north of Yankton with AC resurfacing, PCC surfacing and AC surfacing; estimated total cost of $22.2 million
The SDDOT is working with the District III planning office in Yankton on drawing up the region’s transportation projects, Behm said.
U.S. Highway 81 north of Yankton is slated for major safety changes, he said. As those improvements are made, other work can be considered farther north.
The SDDOT proposals call for continued work on SD Highway 46 from its intersection with US 81 north of Yankton eastward to the Iowa border.
“We’re excited to see Highway 46 moving forward,” Behm said, noting the entire project should be completed by 2023.
Work is also planned on other highways throughout the southeast quadrant of the state, from Lake Andes and Wagner to Beresford and Alcester.
Funding levels will remain the wild card, Behm said. As a rule, the outlying years on a STIP proposal remain more uncertain and are subject to change.
SDDOT officials have spoken with South Dakota’s congressional delegation. The FAST Act could receive a continuing resolution, or a new federal bill could be implemented with the current levels of funding.
“We’re also hearing various conversations right now about some sort of stimulus package, but in terms of timing and amounts, we really haven’t heard anything firm,” Behm said.
The SDDOT has made safety projects — including those planned for the Yankton region — a priority, Behm said. Those measures include rumble strips that alert a driver of an upcoming intersection or that the driver has crossed the center line or the shoulder.
Behm also spoke of the human factor in terms of new state laws dealing with areas such as the “move over” requirements when passing construction crews or approached by first responders as well as steps to crack down on distracted driving, including texting.
Craig Smith, the DOT regional engineer in Mitchell, said his office focuses heavily on work zone safety for all parties.
“It can be white knuckling to go through construction as a driver, and for the construction worker it can also be quite frightening,” he added.
To learn more about the STIP proposal, visit online at the SDDOT website. To comment, email using the website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow @RDockendorf on Twitter.