Yankton County is scheduled to see a pair of major highway projects in the next few years, which is certainly good news.
While this “news” isn’t exactly new, it’s worth noting some of the issues pushing them.
The project to address South Dakota Highway 46 between Irene and Highway 81 to the west is long overdue. It’s always been a difficult stretch of road, given its poor shoulders and its rolling blind spots, especially in the approaches to intersections. (This is due to the area being at the southernmost reach of Turkey Ridge. It’s starkly different east of Irene, which flattens out as it approaches the Vermillion River.)
Highway 46 has seen its share of accidents, and it has developed a reputation of being a hazardous roadway to travel. In fact, the Yankton School District decided a few years ago that it would no longer send buses on that road to go to activities.
And yet, even in an age of interstates, expanded highways and even expressways, Highway 46 remains a crucial roadway for commercial and private traffic, and its importance to the entire region — and not just for local traffic in the Irene area — cannot be dismissed.
The construction work on Irene needs to remain a priority.
Meanwhile, the work on U.S. Highway 81 north of Yankton is also crucial, and has its own set of reasons for attention.
The roadway also has a few issues with rolling terrain and visibility, and it’s arguably the most dangerous kind because it’s deceptive. For instance, the Utica intersection looks innocent enough, but the sloping grade can create an unexpected blind spot, especially when driving north up the hill from what’s known as “Poverty Valley.” Another spot with sight issues is just a mile to the north at the Volin/Johnson Bridge road turnoff, where a slight rise just to the north of that intersection can obscure oncoming traffic. These issues need addressing.
However, another reason for the Highway 81 project — which seems to have expanded recently from its original intentions — was mentioned at a DOT meeting with local officials in Yankton a few weeks ago. It was stated that one factor in modifying the construction plans was the increasing traffic created by the new Dakota Plains grain storage facility at Napa Junction northwest of Yankton. It was decided that extending the four-lane traffic was a means of addressing a legitimate congestion issue.
This would stand as much as a statement about the impact of Dakota Plains as it does about the highway itself.
So, to recap, these two roadways are being reconstructed to address not only old problems but also new demands.
If these projects make the roads safer and allow traffic to flow more smoothly — which they should — they will both be important upgrades to the regional roadway infrastructure.