What is it worth to the Davison County Commissioners to have a key rural road re-open three months earlier than planned? About $33,000.
That’s what the board voted to do on Tuesday, opening up its checkbook to allow for a key bridge project to be completed sooner, even if it’s a bit of a gamble at this stage.
A 4-1 vote on Tuesday authorized moving ahead on design work for a bridge south of Mount Vernon, destroyed by floodwaters in 2019. The vote allows $33,343 in design work for the replacement culverts for the bridge to take place this winter, potentially moving up the completion date of the 397th Avenue bridge, 5 miles south of Mount Vernon to August 2021. Otherwise, the bridge would likely not open until November 2021, Davison County Highway Superintendent Rusty Weinberg said.
The idea for the county to take on the design work was that of Weinberg and Commission Chairwoman Brenda Bode. Bode said having the project done in August is key for farmers bringing grain and livestock to market and is also a critical school bus route. Bode said those two groups of individuals are her impetus to try to have the bridge done as soon as possible.
Commissioners Bode, John Claggett, Denny Kiner and Kim Weitala voted in support of the design work. Randy Reider was the lone opposing vote.
A hydraulic study was conducted earlier this year and the plan is for the bridge to be rebuilt with box culverts and precast concrete. The plan would be for the project to be bid in early 2021 and work to take place next summer. The county is pursuing a state Bridge Improvement Grant to help cover the costs of constructing the bridge.
“Rusty brought up perhaps we should look at starting this on our own,” Bode said, explaining the process to the board. “It would be at taxpayer expense. Does the gain outweigh the expense? For me, if I could say that come August, that it’s done, then it does. It’s pre-harvest and it’s also pre-school. This is a real issue for school buses, mail delivery, for everything. But we would have it for those two key components.”
If Davison County waited longer to start the design process, there would be a chance to get some of those costs reimbursed, but the bridge would remain out longer, likely to November 2021.
In his opposition to the plan, Reider said that he appreciated the effort that went into the plan but couldn’t support the plan because the funding from the state isn’t a guarantee.
“It’s an important road with a lot of traffic, no doubt about that,” Reider said. “I have heartburn about throwing $35,000 or $40,000 at a maybe, given how topsy-turvy the last eight months have been. The only reason we’re spending that money is for a few extra months’ time. I haven’t reached that line where I think that’s worth it.”
Traffic count data from the South Dakota DOT from 2017 indicates that the road averages about 340 to 420 vehicles on it between Mount Vernon and 265th Street.
Given the South Dakota Department of Transportation’s Bridge Improvement Grant criteria, which is scored out of 100 points, the project has about 68 points out of 100, according to Weinberg. Based on past years, a project with that score is nearly a lock to receive BIG funding.
“The question is the dollars plus time and timing,” Claggett said. “I don’t know what the best way is.”
Davison County has had huge success with the BIG program, receiving nearly $3.4 million in state funding for nine different bridge projects around the county since 2016, with $3.27 million going toward rehabilitation or replacement, according to an analysis by the Mitchell Republic.
If Davison County wasn’t selected for a BIG grant for the construction work, it could cost the county $300,000. Bode said it’s a scary proposition but the county should be confident the project will be funded because it has the importance to residents and there’s a demonstrated need.