Report: SD Needs More Money for Highway Work

Fri August 01, 2003 - Midwest Edition

RAPID CITY, SD (AP) South Dakota will have a $220 million backlog of highway and bridge projects by 2008 unless there is an increase in federal funding, a study found.

The Road Information Program, or TRIP, a Washington-based group sponsored in part by the highway construction industry, recently released its report.

The report comes as Congress prepares to consider a new six-year highway bill to replace 1998’s Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, TEA-21, which expires Sept. 30.

"Additional funding under TEA-21 reauthorization would help South Dakota further modernize its road and bridge system, improving traffic safety and mobility and boosting economic development,’ the report concluded.

Versions of the new bill range from a small increase in federal highway money to a 60 percent increase in funding.

Speaking at a news conference, Leon Schochenmaier, director of planning and engineering for the state Department of Transportation, called for more highway spending. South Dakota and four other states have proposed a bill that would increase federal highway funding in South Dakota by more than 30 percent to $1.7 billion over six years, he said.

But time is running out for a new bill, and Congress will likely have to pass a one-year extension of TEA-21, Rapid City contractor Roger Johnsen said. He is past president of Associated General Contractors, the group that organized Tuesday’s news conference. Next year – an election year – Congress and the Bush administration would tackle a long-term highway spending measure, he said.

Dan Pfeiffer, an aide to Sen. Tom Daschle, D-SD, agreed that a new six-year bill probably will not pass by Sept 30.

"Sen. Daschle is open to a number of approaches to this, but we need to find one that can get a majority of votes in the Senate as well as pass the House and be signed into law by the president,’ Pfeiffer said. "We’re still working through that process right now.’

According to the staff for Sen. Tim Johnson, D-SD, who is a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations committees, the Senate has prepared for the bill by budgeting $283 billion for highways and transit systems over the next five years. That is more than the Bush administration’s proposal, which calls for $247 billion over six years.

"I will fight for the higher Senate level to ensure that resources are available to improve South Dakota’s transportation infrastructure in the appropriations bill,’ Johnson said in a statement. "Congress cannot afford to shortchange critical transportation infrastructure improvements.’

On the House side, the committee in charge of the bill is wrestling with the issue, according to Lee Cohen, spokesman for Rep. Bill Janklow, R-S.D. The committee chairman is working to increase funding for highways, but the final bill might not contain all the money South Dakota needs, Cohen said.