In a rural state like South Dakota, roads are our lifeline. We depend upon the 82,000 miles of roadway in our state to get to work, school, church and the grocery store. Farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and other businesses need adequate roads in order to continue their livelihoods.
Maintaining our roads is a fundamental function of government, which is why in 2015 I signed a comprehensive road funding bill into law. Legislators from both sides of the aisle came together to pass this legislation, which generates $85 million in new annual revenue. The measure raised the gas tax by six cents per gallon, and increased the motor vehicle excise tax and license plate fees in order to fund improvements for state and local roads and bridges. I don’t like tax increases, but it’s much cheaper to maintain a good road than to repair a bad road. By investing this money now, we avoid spending even more money down the road.
I’m happy to report that the new money is being put to good use and making a difference. Since the road funding bill was enacted, the state has awarded 298 construction contracts amounting to $750 million. These projects have encompassed work on 6,078 miles of state highway and 172 bridges, many of which would not have been repaired without this new revenue.
This week state and local officials gathered in Davison County to celebrate the completion of the first local Bridge Improvement Grant project, which was made possible by the 2015 law. It was a fitting location for such a celebration as Mitchell is the hometown of former state Sen. Mike Vehle, who led the transportation funding effort two years ago. Vehle attended the event and was joined by Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, SD DOT Secretary Darin Bergquist, Davison County Commission Chair Brenda Bode and other officials. To date, 137 other local bridge projects are underway thanks to the $19 million worth of funding awarded thus far. All of these projects are expected to be complete by 2020.
An additional $9 million in Bridge Improvement Grants will be awarded in April 2018. In order to apply for a grant, counties must have a five-year transportation plan and levy a wheel tax. Counties and cities are required to provide a minimum of 20 percent financial match to the grant. Eligible bridges must serve multiple residences, farms, ranches, or a multi-lot development and be located on a fully maintained public roadway.
When President Ronald Reagan proposed a gas tax increase in 1982, he said, “The bridges and highways we fail to repair today will have to be rebuilt tomorrow at many times the cost.” President Reagan was exactly right. I’m proud we tackled this issue in 2015, instead of kicking the can down the road. Two-and-a-half years into implementation, South Dakotans can rest assured the funding is being used as intended and their money is being put to good use.