DOT panel considers 'Purple Heart Trail' designation for I-90Commission would have to change its policy to designate Interstate 90 across South Dakota as part of a nationwide project honoring all men and women killed or wounded in combat while members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
PIERRE — The state Transportation Commission faces a difficult question of whether to change its policy on naming highways.
At issue is whether Interstate 90 across South Dakota should be designated as part of a nationwide project honoring all men and women killed or wounded in combat while members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The state Department of Transportation’s policy has been to name a highway, or part of one, for one honored party. Interstate highways nationwide already are designated in honor of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
South Dakota DOT officials last year received a request to designate I-90 as part of the Purple Heart Trail.
The project is a 50-state effort that was started in 1992 by the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
The initial response from SDDOT was to suggest the group propose a different highway in South Dakota.
The group subsequently has resubmitted its request for the I-90 designation.
Transportation Commission members discussed the matter Thursday and decided to place it on their May 24 agenda.
South Dakota doesn’t have signs along I-90 for the Eisenhower designation but has information about it at the Valley Springs rest stop.
The proposal that commissioner Bob Benson of Winner favors would add the Purple Heart designation and feature signs at the Valley Springs and Tilford rest stops.
The discussion Thursday initially seemed to favor sticking to the established state policy and thereby denying the Purple Heart request.
Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist said various requests for I-90 designations had been turned down in the past because the interstates already carried the national Eisenhower designation.
Commissioner Sam Tidball of Fort Pierre suggested the Purple Heart organization be asked to look again for another highway. “So we don’t give everybody else a slap in the face because we denied them (the others),” Tidball said.
But Benson, a retired officer in the South Dakota National Guard, changed the direction when he explained that the Purple Heart’s origin can be traced to George Washington in 1782 as the Badge of Military Merit.
He picked up support from commissioner Mike Trucano of Deadwood. “Maybe this group deserves some special consideration,” Trucano said.
Commissioner Don Roby of Watertown said the situation reminded him of the naming of sports stadiums and arenas which sometimes carry multiple names reflecting multiple sponsors and honorees. “The dilution effect comes into play,” Roby said.
But Benson countered — and Roby immediately agreed — that honoring armed forces veterans who were wounded or killed is very different.
Where the majority of votes might land next month wasn’t clear Thursday.
“You can see why we came to the commission,” Scott Rabern, who oversees the highway designation program in DOT, said.