For years, a 30-mile stretch of South Dakota Highway 46 has been considered so dangerous that some travelers between Yankton and Sioux Falls avoided it.
Now, a $22 million federal BUILD grant announced Thursday will provide a major boost for rebuilding the 85-year-old travel artery, according to the South Dakota Department of Transportation (SDDOT).
The funds will help reconstruct Highway 46 between U.S. Highway 81 north of Yankton and 0.3 miles west of I-29 near Beresford. The work is scheduled for completion in 2023.
The money will arrive in time for the next phase of the multi-year project, according to Mike Behm, the SDDOT director of planning and engineering.
“Through working with the U.S. Department of Transportation, we anticipate funds being made available for work that will take place next construction season,” he said.
Even with the new federal funding, Behm expects the Highway 46 project will maintain its current timetable on the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).
“We do not anticipate moving these projects up in the STIP since reconstruction and surfacing will need to be sequenced,” he said. “Because of the length, SD Highway 46 will be reconstructed and improved in phases (through) 2023.”
The $22 million in new funding drew praise from Mike Healy, a Transportation Committee member for the Yankton Area Chamber of Commerce.
“This is great news for this section of highway which is integral for the transportation infrastructure,” he said. “This should address safety issues for agricultural and commercial traffic, in addition to the recreation, health care and other regional and local services.”
The Highway 46 improvements will benefit a major part of southeastern South Dakota, Healy added.
“It provides a means of connecting the interstate system and Highway 81, which is an integral part of the traffic flow between Sioux Falls and Yankton,” he said. “The traffic will only increase in the future with more demands on it. There is the realization that local and county roads have limited funds to be able to keep up with modern highway infrastructure.”
The BUILD grant comes at a welcome but unexpected time, Healy said, as the federal government is facing a number of unprecedented financial demands with COVID-19.
“I’m definitely surprised because of the funding that is (already) being allocated for various pandemic measures across the country,” he said. “But I think it’s important to note the safety issues of the highway really are there. I think that (pressing need) can support the allocation of funding for it at this time.”
Behm noted the safety statistics for the 30-mile stretch of highway in recent years. During the five-year period between 2014 and 2018, 58 total crashes occurred on the Highway 46 corridor within the project area and resulted in two fatalities, 18 injuries, and 24 possible injuries. In addition, 76 car/animal collisions were not calculated into the crash rates of the corridor.
As a result, safety remains the top priority for the Highway 46 project, Healy said. He noted the many obstacles such as hilly terrain and narrow shoulders.
“There are plans that have been developed so far that will definitely widen the roads,” he said. “We have additional reduction of hills that should help in reducing potential accidents — and hopefully fatalities — in the future.”
Those safety features are incorporated in the Highway 46 reconstruction, Behm said. He noted the work in the different phases:
• Phase 1: This started with fiscal year 2019 and runs 8.2 miles from west of SD 19/19A to west of the junction with I-29. The work includes re-grading the vertical curve to improve sight distance, widening shoulders to full roadway standards, improving the deteriorating pavement and new pavement markings, replacing structurally deficient bridge and box culverts, installing left-turn lanes at three intersections, constructing center line and shoulder rumble strips, and improving side slopes.
• Phase 2, during FY 2020, consists of 9.9 miles from Irene to SD19A. The work includes regrading two vertical curves to improve sight distance, widening shoulders to full roadway standards, improving the deteriorating pavement and new pavement markings, replacing structurally deficient bridge and box culverts, constructing center line and shoulder rumble strips, and improving side slopes.
• Phase 3a during FY 2022, includes 12 miles from Highway 81 to Irene. The work includes regrading two vertical curves to improve sight distance; widening shoulders to full roadway standards; improving the deteriorating pavement and new pavement markings; replacing structurally deficient bridge and box culverts; installing left-turn lanes at three intersections; constructing transverse, centerline and shoulder rumble strips; improving side slopes and installing intersection lighting.
• Phase 3b during FY 2022 calls for paving the 18.1-mile segment from Irene to west of the junction with I-29.
• Phase 4 during FY 2023 consisting of paving the entire segment from Highway 81 to Irene.
In a press release, the South Dakota congressional delegation — Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds and Rep. Dusty Johnson — expressed appreciation to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao for the $22 million funding.
Healy noted the discussion on the Highway 46 reconstruction began in the late 1990s with meetings in Irene. The project got pushed back during the Great Recession about 10 years, but persistence has paid off, he said.
“We are most appreciative to the SDDOT and the other officials who have been working along with local communities,” he said. “This effort has spanned more than 20 years.”
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