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Lawmakers Study Roads, Look For Solutions

July 2, 2014, 10:00 PM by Erich Schaffhauser

Lawmakers Study Roads, Look For Solutions

State lawmakers are studying problems facing infrastructure we use often.

A committee is examining roads and bridges in the state and looking for ways to fix those problems. Members of the committee have visited four communities to seek public input. They will make three more stops this year.

Committee chair Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, says there's a great need for improvement on all levels. He says the federal Highway Trust Fund could run out of money soon. At the current funding levels, a quarter of the state highways will be in poor condition within ten years, and more than a quarter of local roads in South Dakota are already deficient, Vehle said.

Vehle joined committee members Rep. Dick Werner, Sen. Jim White, both Huron republicans, and Sen. Chuck Welke, D-Warner, in Aberdeen Wednesday.

Roads in Brown County need work. Highway superintendent Dirk Rogers told state lawmakers he's using grant money to pay for a pavement evaluation study.

"There's 480 miles of asphalt in Brown County and only 280 of them I've even submitted for the study because the other 200 are completely shot," Rogers said.

Others who attended the highway needs and financing meeting shared similar concerns and added others.

"In Marshall County one of the big problems we have is, I would have to say that two-thirds of our bridges are structurally deficient at this point for carrying semis," Paul Symons said.

In fact, Symons says some of them are closed. Lawmakers call this is a big problem because agriculture and tourism are large industries in South Dakota and both rely heavily on roads.

"This is not partisan; this is something that's vital to South Dakota," Vehle said.

Vehle asked for solutions, too. Some suggested getting money to pay for maintenance and repairs by raising taxes with a direct link to road use such as the gas or wheel tax. Others want a cent or half cent sales tax increase.

"We need to do a combination; we can't put it on the back of one. If we put in on the back of one, it's not going to pass," Mike Jung of Aberdeen said.

Flooding is another damage-causing issue. Mike Elsen farms in the Hecla area and says drainage needs to be in a solution to improve roads in that part of the state.

"To have a good road, you should have good drainage by the road to have a good foundation," Elsen said.

Committee members will move on to west river communities later this month, before Pierre meetings in August and November.

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