In economically uncertain times like these, any piece of good funding news in terms of infrastructure, at least, can feel like a blessing.

That happened last week with the announcement that the Highway 46 reconstruction project has received a $22 million federal BUILD grant, according to the South Dakota Department of Transportation (SDDOT).

This funding should provide a huge boost to a project that has been on the minds of area residents and officials for a long time, and it will help in the upgrading of a major economic artery in the region.

The funds will be used in the reconstruction project on South Dakota Highway 46 between U.S. Highway 81 north of Yankton to just west of Interstate 29 near Beresford. The project is slated for completion in 2023.

This stretch of Highway 46 has long been a tricky regional roadway. To the west of Irene, Highway 46 travels through the southern end of Turkey Ridge, an area that features rolling hills that create numerous blind spots along the road and makes passing other vehicles particularly hazardous. East of Irene, the road flows through the Vermillion River valley, a flat stretch prone to damaging floods, particularly where the highway crosses the river near the intersection with Highway 19.

The dangers are obvious. Between 2014 and 2018, there were 58 crashes within the project area that resulted in two fatalities, 18 injuries and 24 “possible” injuries. These numbers do not include 76 known car/animal collisions in the corridor.

The hazards along the roadway are such that the Yankton School District announced a few years ago that it would no longer utilize this stretch of Highway 46 to transport athletes and fans to extracurricular activities.

The effort to address the roadway’s issues has been a regional ambition since the late 1990s, and the reconstruction project was finalized and approved by the SDDOT a few years ago. Work began late last year near the Highway 19 junction south of Centerville. The federal grant should help ensure no disruptions in funding.

And that’s great news given the importance of the project to this region.

“(Highway 46) 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,” Mike Healy, a Transportation Committee member for the Yankton Area Chamber of Commerce, told the Press & Dakotan. “The traffic will only increase in the future with more demands on it. There is (also) the realization that local and county roads have limited funds to be able to keep up with modern highway infrastructure.”

The quality of highways and bridges is a major issue across the area and around the nation, and anything that helps move a project forward is vital — and in this coronavirus economy, perhaps it is even more important. With the BUILD grant, the Highway 46 project is poised now to take huge strides toward its conclusion.


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