YANKTON, S.D. (AP) The soaring cost of construction material, stalled or diminishing revenue from state taxes and less-than-anticipated federal funding are combining to put the state Department of Transportation (DOT) budget in a tight spot, DOT Secretary Judy Payne said.
“I hate to be the doom-and-gloom person here, but I need to be honest with you,” Payne said at a recent meeting in Pierre with Yankton-area officials. “We’re going to be deferring way more projects than we ever anticipated — particularly in 2008. We’re going to have some real tough choices to make in construction season 2008.”
Instead of reconstruction or starting new road projects, the state DOT will focus much more on preservation, she said.
“We’ll be doing more things like chip-seals and fixing cracks and tiles, as opposed to reconstructing, because we simply don’t have the money,” Payne said.
Payne said things have changed since she started her job.
“We were flush with funds for a number of years. When I came to the department in April of 2005, our state highway trust fund balance was $95 million. Today, it is $10 million,” she said.
“That’s how much things have changed in a very short period of time. We’re not doing anything any differently in the department now than we were then.”
Many areas of the state will share in the deferrals, the DOT secretary said.
“We do a good job of keeping the projects balanced across the state,” she said. “There are a number of communities that have had the same successes Yankton has had with recent highway projects. Likewise, the entire state is going to be feeling the result of the high inflation, stagnant revenues, reduced funding and increasing needs.”
The squeeze on transportation funding could hurt areas that need new roads to go along with new developments, she said.
“That’s where I think we’re going to see the hardest hits — those places that we’d like to be reconstructing new highways. But we’re not going to have the dollars to do it because we’re going to have to spend them taking care of the old,” Payne said.
Payne said that the new Yankton bridge project and converting the old Meridian Bridge into a recreational trail are in no danger of being delayed.