A Better Road Ahead
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:
In a rural state like South Dakota, good quality roads are our lifeline. And right now, our roads are underfunded. In all corners of the state, we have road funding needs. State highways, municipal streets, county oil, township gravel, and hundreds of rural bridges are in need of additional maintenance.
Sixteen years ago, when I was a state senator and Bill Janklow was governor, the Legislature implemented the current 22-cent-a-gallon fuel tax. Since then, construction costs have doubled, but our gas tax hasn’t. It is still 22 cents per gallon.
We have 82,000 miles of roadway in South Dakota, many of which are in disrepair. Between local roads and state highways, we could easily spend another $150 million per year. We have nearly 1,400 bridges that are still safe, but structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The replacement cost for those structures is about $240 million.
In 2003, $1 million would buy 7.8 miles of asphalt overlay, 1.5 miles of rural roadway reconstruction, and about 0.4 miles of urban concrete roadway reconstruction. In 2013, just 10 years later, that same $1 million could only overlay or reconstruct about half as many miles of roadway.
Our state highway system is South Dakota’s most valuable physical asset, and if we want to maintain it, we must act now. That is why I am proposing a road and bridge funding bill that meets the need at both state and local levels. My proposal generates about $50 million more this year, and in the long run it will permanently fix the current imbalance between road construction needs and funding.
When President Ronald Reagan proposed a gas tax increase in 1982, he said this: “America can’t afford throwaway roads or disposable transit systems. 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. This year we need to fix this problem, for good.
Maintaining our roads and bridges is one of the most fundamental functions of government, and it is vital for this year and for decades to come. I don’t want to leave this problem to future generations.