Hot Springs will get $2.8 million and one mile of U.S. 18 from S.D. Dept. of Transportation

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Hot Springs Mayor George Kotti reached agreement Thursday on a swap with the South Dakota Transportation Commission.

Hot Springs will get $2.8 million from state government, in return for the city taking over about one mile of what’s now U.S. 18 through the center of the community.

The state Department of Transportation in turn will ask the Legislature next year to change South Dakota law to reflect the trade.

That would involve the route currently known as US 18B — now a by-pass around the south end of the city — officially becoming US 18.

Commission members met for about one hour in a private teleconference with state Department of Transportation officials before publicly explaining terms of the exchange.

The deal turned on a desire by people in Hot Springs for a cantilevered sidewalk along US 385 between Jennings Avenue and Minnekahta Avenue.

City officials wanted the raised sidewalk as an aesthetic improvement, but state government couldn’t justify the cost, according to Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist.

That difference led to city officials agreeing to become responsible for a piece of US 18, in return for state government giving $2.8 million without any conditions on how the city government spends it.

The unspoken presumption is the suspended sidewalk.

“Those funds are very flexible for the city’s purposes,” Secretary Bergquist said. “This is a compromise agreement.”

He said it’s one piece of a larger effort by Governor Kristi Noem’s administration and the city’s leaders to make Hot Springs into The Veterans Town USA.

The Fall River county seat, with an estimated population of 3,516, is home to the relatively new State Veterans Home and a federal Veterans Administration health care campus.

Mike Behm, the state department’s director of planning and engineering, said SDDOT would keep responsibility for two bridges over Garden Street and the Fall River.

Chairman Mike Vehle of Mitchell asked about the condition of the stretch of US 18 that’s being transferred and the current cost for redoing it.

Behm replied that it was rebuilt in 1996 and remains in “very good condition,” with a score of 4.36 on a scale of zero to 5. Behm estimated the surface would last another 30 years or so. He said rebuilding one mile of four-lane would cost approximately $5 million to $6 million.

Mayor Kotti said the proposed sidewalk would improve safety and help create a gathering area for the downtown business district that recently lost three businesses to fire.

“We’re willing to take over the maintenance of University Avenue,” Kotti said. “This would be a real benefit to our small community.”

The commission voted 9-0 to accept the jurisdictional transfer. “Good luck, Mr. Mayor,” Vehle said. Replied Kotti, “We certainly appreciate and we look forward to making our downtown better.” 

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