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Longtime legislator Vehle appointed as Transportation Commissioner

The driving force behind a bill to improve South Dakota's highways and bridges is bringing his commitment to transportation back to state government.

Former state Sen. Mike Vehle and the rest of the audience share a laugh listening to Secretary of Transportation Darin Bergquist give his remarks during an induction ceremony for Vehle into the South Dakota Transportation Hall of Honor in 2015 at the Highland Conference Center in Mitchell. (Matt Gade/Republic)
Former state Sen. Mike Vehle and the rest of the audience share a laugh listening to Secretary of Transportation Darin Bergquist give his remarks during an induction ceremony for Vehle into the South Dakota Transportation Hall of Honor in 2015 at the Highland Conference Center in Mitchell. (Matt Gade/Republic)
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The driving force behind a bill to improve South Dakota’s highways and bridges is bringing his commitment to transportation back to state government.

On Friday, Gov. Dennis Daugaard appointed former state Sen. Mike Vehle, of Mitchell, to the South Dakota Transportation Commission less than one year after Vehle closed out a lengthy tenure in the state Legislature.

A 2015 inductee to the South Dakota Transportation Hall of Honor, Vehle made arguably his biggest mark in the Legislature through a years-long effort to raise a variety of automobile-related taxes to improve the state’s decaying system of roads and bridges. The man who bestowed the honor upon Vehle at his 2015 recognition ceremony in Mitchell, Secretary of Transportation Darin Bergquist, has called Vehle a “true friend of transportation,” and reiterated his support of Vehle on Friday.

“Sen. Vehle was instrumental in the passage of Senate Bill 1 during the 2015 legislative session, a bill which provided an increase in revenue for state and local highways and bridges,” Bergquist said. “His knowledge of highway needs and financing will be of great benefit to the department and the citizens of South Dakota.”

Vehle fills a vacant seat on the commission, which determines construction priorities and advises the state Transportation Department on overall transportation needs. And Vehle is looking forward to jumping on board.

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“I was very pleased and honored that (Daugaard) would select me to be on the Transportation Commission,” Vehle said Friday.

And the committee appointment is far from Vehle’s first rodeo with transportation oversight.

In 2008, Vehle became chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee as a first-year senator after having served two terms in the state House of Representatives. Fresh off a legislative summer study to investigate South Dakota’s highway needs, Vehle dove into what would become a years-long effort to find new funding opportunities to boost the state’s roads and bridges.

What would become known as Senate Bill 1 would ultimately raise motor fuel, excise and wheel taxes to be used on highway and bridge projects.

During his seven-year push for to promote transportation funding, Vehle became known for a catchphrase he used to instill the importance of highways and bridges to the South Dakota economy.

“If you got it, a road brought it,” Vehle often said. “Not much is parachuted in.”

As his long tenure in the state Legislature came to a close, Vehle recommended his replacement - who would inevitably be Sen. Joshua Klumb - not sweat the small stuff. Vehle used the example of a 5 mph interstate speed limit increase that was tacked on to Senate Bill 1, which didn’t gain a fan in Vehle. But he told The Daily Republic in 2016 that while he wasn’t a fan of the increased speed limit, he said it’s important to focus on the bigger picture of getting his highway bill approved.

Vehle, 67, will now join the board that includes commissioners from Aberdeen, Watertown, Rapid City, Ideal, Yankton and Sturgis.

Related Topics: TRANSPORTATION
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