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The Road Ahead For Highway Funding

February 26, 2008, 9:34 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

The Road Ahead For Highway Funding
In just three years, $80 million has been spent from South Dakota's Highway Trust Fund, but it hasn't taken in that much. It's why the Governor proposed a two million dollar budget cut to the South Dakota Highway Patrol. But it also means there will be $25 million in cuts to road and highway projects.

When the Interstate 35-W bridge collapsed in Minneapolis August 1st, 2007, 13 people lost their lives. More than six months later, progress can be seen as crews re-build the bridge. 

The tragedy forced a new emphasis on keeping up roads and bridges across the country, but right now, the fund that pays for such projects across South Dakota is low. 

South Dakota Secretary of the Department of Transportation Darin Bergquist says, "We certainly have some big challenges ahead of us as we look to the future." 

Governor Mike Rounds points to flat gas tax revenues for why the highway fund is lacking money. Another reason is expensive highway projects, like the $22 million 12th Street project in Sioux Falls. 

Gov. Mike Rounds says, "We didn't leave any contractors hanging, we finished the jobs that were out there." 

The state highway trust fund was in danger of going into debt, but by making big cutbacks to highway projects, officials hope to keep road funds out of the red. 

Bergquist says, "There's numbers out there that the state highway trust fund is going $27 million in the hole. That's not going to happen we just need to curtail our spending and live within our revenue means." 

That means the state won't start any major road projects in the next couple of years and do more repairs rather than reconstruction. 

Rounds says, "Rather than totally tearing out and starting all over and rebuilding a rural road between two communities we may just have to put an overlay on it and get by for a few years." 

But the state's highway fund isn't the only concern; the federal highway trust fund that supplements South Dakota road projects by 75 percent is also in danger of going into debt. 

Bergquist says, "The projections are the federal highway trust fund where our federal construction funds come from, is going to be broke or short by the end of 2009." 

And officials in South Dakota say they hope the Minnesota bridge collapse in Minneapolis puts an emphasis on the need for federal highway funding even in states like South Dakota. 

Rounds says, "If there is a silver lining in that terrible tragedy, it is that it draws attention to the fact that tax dollars do do some good things as well and that is to repair and to maintain infrastructure for all of us." 

They hope construction 300 miles away will do something to save the federal money to improve South Dakota roads. 

Vice-Chair of the House Transportation committee, Representative Shantel Krebs says, "We have to think about how are we going to take care of the bridge in Madison, how are we going to take care of the road in Stanley county." 

And maintain the condition of roads and bridges South Dakotans drive on every day. 

Representative Shantel Krebs did propose a bill this session that would have set up a task force to study the financial future of South Dakota's roads, but it was rejected. Opponents to the task force said a bill will be introduced next year to raise fuel taxes to finance construction projects.

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