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State pressed for help at 44, 281 junction

From left, Betty Putnam, Greg Putnam, Harvey Ymker and Frank Kloucek testify Thursday at Mitchell Technical Institute on road safety issues. (Ross Dolan/Republic)

Harvey Ymker, of Corsica, and former state legislator Frank Kloucek, Scotland, testified Thursday that road projects for upcoming years should include improvement to the intersection of highways 44 and 281, south of Corsica.

The topic arose at Mitchell Technical Institute during a state-government-hosted input session on the Mitchell Region portion of the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

Kloucek said his group wants to get flashing lights mounted on intersection stop signs and rumble strips on Highway 44 as a warning to motorists. He said the intersection has been the site of numerous accidents and at least one death.

Ymker said the fight to get make the intersection more visible has received support from citizens in the Corsica, Armour and Platte areas and people throughout the state.

The DOT has rejected those options and instead will install signs with higher reflectance values.

That's not enough, Kloucek said, calling the offered improvements "one-quarter of the loaf."

He presented DOT officials with petitions bearing the signatures of 365 area residents.

"We're not going to give up on this," he said.

His intensity was matched by Ymker, who said drivers frequently blow through the intersection without stopping.

"It makes me think they aren't seeing the signage," he said. Area residents have learned to wait at the intersection and to not expect drivers on Highway 44 to stop, he added. "Everybody has had a close call."

Dwayne and Evelyn Werkmeister, who live near the intersection, both said they have seen westbound drivers "barrel through the intersection."

"I don't know why, but they just don't stop at that sign," Dwayne Werkmeister said.

Bridge concerns

About 35 people attended the meeting, which led Dave Scott, of Geddes, to comment that Thursday's was one of the lightest-attended meetings on the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program he'd been to in 22 years.

"That's probably an indication you're doing a pretty good job," he said.

Joel Jundt, DOT director of planning and engineering, said in opening comments that the DOT will switch from a five-year construction period to an eight-year process to give more lead time for projects and development.

About half that time would be dedicated to planning and the remaining time to project development and execution.

"In essence, we're trying to kick-start our projects, doing earlier designs so we can get projects prepared and ready to go."

Administrative Program Manager Laurie Schultz said the state's 3,800 local bridges are becoming a growing concern statewide, with half that number more than 50 years old and 1,000 more than 75 years old. Most bridges have a 50-year life, she said.

Only $7.5 million in federal money is available for bridges in 2012 and $1 million was used last year for required inspections, leaving only enough cash to build or repair 24 bridges, Schultz said.

Davison County Commissioner John Claggett said, "There's just not going to be enough dollars," noting that money to maintain Davison County's 89 bridges is a growing concern.

He asked Schultz if any county is keeping up.

She said that only "one or two" counties are managing, and the DOT is urging basic maintenance to stretch the longevity of current structures.

DOT spokesman Mike Behm said most state highway funds come from fuel tax and vehicle excise taxes. Federal money comes from the current federal MAP-21 highway program, which is set to expire Sept. 30, 2014. He said federal funding is unknown beyond that date.