Testimony taken on problems, solutions for highways, roads

Farm Forum

Local people are getting a chance to share their thoughts on problems and concerns dealing with the local highways, roads and bridges through a series of meetings across South Dakota.

State Sen. Mike Vehle is chairing a summer study on short- and long-term funding for roads and bridges in South Dakota. At the recent S.D. Governor’s Ag Summit in Deadwood, Vehle detailed some of the concerns and hopes that people will speak out.

Meetings were scheduled in Yankton, Sioux Falls, Watertown and Aberdeen this week. Two more hearings are scheduled for July 23 at Belle Fourche (11 a.m. at the community center) and at Rapid City (4 p.m. at the School of Mines and Technology’s Classroom Building).

Vehle said some of the roads are in the best condition they’ve been in years. But with the increased traffic by heavier trucks and more agricultural commodities traveling the roads, that will be changing in the future.

Only 2 percent of roads are in poor condition now, but in 10 years that number will increase to 27 percent. And 21 percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient, according to a report from the American Road and Transportation Builders.

With the federal transportation fund expected to go into the red this year, Vehle wants the state to get a handle on funding options.

The federal government usually covers 80 percent of transportation projects. And South Dakota receives a two-fold return on federal gas taxes because, Vehle said, the state has a lot of roads but not a lot of people.

The Legislature’s last study on transportation resulted in recommended tax and fee increases.

Vehle said Monday the seven senators and eight representatives would convene again Aug. 26-27 in Pierre to discuss the findings from the hearings, take testimony from highway users such as producers and truckers, and consider how to proceed.

“I’m just looking for the needs. I don’t want to talk about any state or local funding source right off the bat,” he said.

Vehle said he’s leaving open the date for the panel’s final meeting to as late in November as possible because of the uncertainty in the federal government.