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Senators raise questions about interstate rest areas

PIERRE -- Wanda Goodman faced questions from state lawmakers Monday about why some rest areas have been closed along South Dakota's interstate highways.

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PIERRE - Wanda Goodman faced questions from state lawmakers Monday about why some rest areas have been closed along South Dakota's interstate highways.

The exchanges came during the Senate Transportation Committee hearing on SB 59.

It would allow the state Department of Tourism to charge for advertising inside traveler welcome centers along Interstate 90 and Interstate 29.

Goodman is deputy secretary of tourism for Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

The committee voted 7-0 to recommend its Senate passage.

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But Sen. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, objected when Sen. Ernie Otten, R-Tea, tried to put the bill on the Senate's consent calendar, where it couldn't be debated.

A week ago some members of the House Commerce and Energy Committee raised similar concerns about the status of rest areas to Jim Hagen, who is secretary of tourism.

"We do not expect this to become a huge moneymaker for the department," Goodman told senators Monday.

She explained the revenue would help pay for videos, static advertising, interactive kiosks and print materials in the welcome centers. No one else testified.

Goodman said welcome centers employ travel counselors who provide information about South Dakota to travelers. She said they offer more than rest areas that also are along the interstates.

Goodman said welcome centers would be reconstructed at Homestead at the Vermillion turn on I-29 and at Valley Springs on I-90. She said the Wilmot rest area on I-29 would be expanded to add a welcome center.

The three will close this spring and reopen in spring 2019 after the work is finished, she said.

The welcome center at Salem would stay open through 2018 but would be only a rest area starting in 2019, Goodman said.

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Bolin said he often stopped at the Salem center, and sometimes others, for naps during his drives to and from Pierre.

"I can assure that I do, on a pretty regular basis," he said.

Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot, said it was "very troubling" that some I-29 rest areas closed last year.

One known as Hidewood was between Brookings and Watertown.

Frerichs said some women said they became uncomfortable while trying to reach a convenience store.

"These are retired teachers. They want to be prim and proper," Frerichs said.

Goodman replied that all of those things were considered during the review conducted with the state Department of Transportation.

She said Hidewood's northbound and southbound rest areas "unfortunately" were some of the oldest. They would have needed reconstruction, she said.

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"Those were two of the ones that made the cutting board," Goodman said.

Frerichs said another set was closed last summer too.

Sen. Alan Solano, R-Rapid City, asked if digital media would "push out" printed materials for some smaller businesses from the welcome centers.

"We'll keep that in place," Goodman said.

Solano asked the committee to recommend the bill.

"I'm very gratified that we'll remain with the print materials for those small businesses to get their name out," Solano said.

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