EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of two articles on proposed highway and bridge projects in the Yankton area.
MITCHELL — Thanks to a large influx of federal dollars, South Dakota is well positioned to meet growing transportation needs, according to a Department of Transportation (DOT) official.
Planning and Engineering Division Manager Mike Behm provided an update Wednesday at the DOT’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) meeting in Mitchell.
The meeting, which was streamed live, was one of four held across the state to provide information and gather feedback on the 2023-26 draft plan.
The National Transport Commission will make the final decisions when it meets next month in Pierre. Yankton resident Bruce Cull sits on the commission.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Behm talked about the extra dollars coming into the state for transportation. Such funding provides a stable source of income and the ability to develop long-term plans, he added.
“Together with federal assistance through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IJAA), this will provide us with a solid source of funding for the next five years,” he said. “From concept to construction, it takes 4 to 8 years and several stages (in the process).”
The Mitchell area, a 22-county area generally stretching from Chamberlain to Yankton to Sioux Falls, is slated for big projects, Behm said.
“We’ll see $1.4 billion in projects over the next four years, and that’s just the Mitchell area,” he said, noting that the figure is comparable to the whole of the country. Condition about 20 years ago.
Federal funding accounts for $380 million annually for transportation in South Dakota of the total $500 million to $600 million raised for state infrastructure projects, Behm said.
“It’s a huge transportation investment for South Dakota,” he said. “The first thing we focus on is safety. We have had a very good downward trend in fatalities since 2008. Our serious injuries have also decreased since 2008.”
South Dakota hit one of its lowest fatal accident numbers in 2019, while numbers have increased in 2020 and 2021, generally due to speeding and alcohol, Behm said. So far, the state is trending lower again in 2022 after the two-year rise, he added.
According to the Department of Public Safety (DPS), the leading cause of fatal crashes is when drivers cross the center line, Behm said. The DOT has sought to reduce these collisions through soundtracks and other devices, he said.
The state received a major boost from South Dakota Senate Bill 1, which created the Bridge Improvement Grant (BIG) during the 2015 legislature, Behm said.
SB 1 states that, to be eligible for a BIG grant, a county must impose a tax on wheels. In addition, a county must have a county highway and bridge improvement plan. The plan should detail the county’s proposed road and bridge improvement projects for the next five years.
State bridges are typically between 40 and 70 years old, and many are over 50 years old.
“We have over 5,700 structural bridges, which is a heavyweight. … But safe bridges are not just a convenience but a necessity,” he said. “The Transportation Commission has funded $33 million for the program (BIG), when they typically fund it for $15 million a year.”
Accelerated funding and construction is needed, given the aging conditions of bridges that need to be repaired or replaced in the near future, Behm said.
“We see a wave coming and we have to prepare for it. The volume means we have to do it sooner rather than later,” he said. “We have to at least flatten the curve. We also focus on new technologies.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Mitchell Area Engineer Jay Peppel provided an overview of major regional projects planned each year. Proposals for later years are more tentative and could be moved forward, back, or dropped altogether.
This year, work continues on the reconstruction phase of Highway 46 from the intersection of US Highway 81 to Irene. The DOT will hold a public meeting and open house at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Irene Community Center on the need to close the 12-mile segment at the end of next week or the week after. The closure, which is expected to last until November, became necessary due to the installation of six box culverts at a different time than originally planned.
In 2023, projects include resurfacing work east of Wagner to Highway 37 and a resurfacing project for a small portion of Highway 50 around Avon.
Also next year, the DOT plans to launch a controversial reconfiguration of Interstate 46 in Wagner from the current four lanes to three lanes (two driving lanes and one turning lane).
The DOT chose the three-lane plan because it meets traffic, drainage, surface, sidewalk and other needs, Baum said. A delegation of Wagner residents have expressed concerns that the change will harm local businesses, pedestrians and the community at large. Another concern was any impact to nearby Native American sites.
Wagner residents noted that a petition opposing the change had about 1,500 signatures and called for reconsideration of DOT plans.
The Transportation Commission will make the final decision, Baum noted.
In another major project, the Platte-Winner Bridge is slated for a fall 2024 lease. The project will cost between $168 million and $170 million, with the bridge being built on the north side of the existing bridge.
In 2025, plans include Highway 50 through Tyndall with resurfacing and improvements such as grading, curb and gutter. Other works in the coming years include Highway 46 from Beresford to the Iowa Line and Highway 46 to Alcester.
On another topic, District 18 Sen. Jean Hunhoff (R-Yankton) raised questions about how state officials anticipate a growing number of electric vehicles and the need for charging stations.
As co-chair of the appropriations committee, she also noted the impact of more electric vehicles and other alternative vehicles on state gasoline taxes.
“Where will the income come from? she asked, noting that other states are grappling with the situation.
The number of electric vehicles (EVs) is increasing and states are responding to a federal initiative increasing the number of charging stations in the United States.
The DOT is reviewing the changes needed to accommodate more electric vehicles and lower gasoline taxes, Behm said. Currently, South Dakota charges an additional $50 fee when electric vehicle owners pay for their annual registration, he said.
The DOT provided an explanation of its plans on its website.
South Dakota’s Electric Vehicle (EV) Fast Charging Plan will guide the creation of a network of EV fast chargers throughout South Dakota. The state will connect to the national grid “to provide convenient, reliable, affordable, and accessible charging to all electric vehicle drivers,” the website says.
The development of this plan is necessary to secure funding for the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program (NEVI) of the Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA).
Initial installation will focus on locations near South Dakota’s freeways (I-90, I-29, I-229 and I-190). NEVI program guidelines require fast-charging infrastructure to be installed within 50 miles of each other and within one mile of highway travel.
The IIJA provides funding to each state to stimulate private investment in charging stations. The federal investment provides the opportunity to expand charging infrastructure to complement a nationwide network of DC fast-charging (DCFC) infrastructure for EVs.
Connecting to a nationwide network of chargers will help visitors from across the country. Given the expected growth of electric vehicles manufactured by domestic automakers, the adoption of electric vehicles is expected to increase.
Pressure is being put on the electric vehicle market as consumer demand for electric vehicles increases and the cost of producing batteries decreases.
South Dakota faces many challenges meeting the infrastructure needs of a large state, Behm told the Mitchell audience.
“We are trying to build better lives through better transportation. We are so connected to our transportation system. It’s so vital to our daily lives that we take it for granted,” he said.
“It’s part of our way of life, and we expect it. Transportation is crucial.
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