Davison County’s leaders took a look at the plan for the next five years of road work, taking stock of what was a $16 million wishlist for projects through 2024.

County Highway Superintendent Rusty Weinberg and the county’s commissioners met on Tuesday at the county’s North Offices building in Mitchell and discussed the five-year road plan. The plan included more than 50 projects for asphalt overlays, chip and fog seal, gravel and bridge replacements. If the county completed all of the projects, the estimated total cost is $16.3 million, and Weinberg estimated that the local funding obligation — when factoring in potential state and grant funding for certain projects — would be $12.5 million.

“This is our heaviest traffic stuff,” Weinberg said of deciding which projects would be prioritized.

Among the notable projects scheduled for 2020 are a resurfacing and overlay of 10 miles on 408th Avenue from Spruce Street in Mitchell to 265th Street (the former State Highway 42 that runs into Ethan). A similar project is planned for a 6-mile stretch of Old Highway 16, or 254th Street, between Mount Vernon and Betts Road (403rd Avenue). Together, those projects are estimated to cost $1.4 million, with the Old Highway 16 project costing about $800,000 because it will be a 2-inch mat overlay project, while the 408th Avenue project will be a 1-inch overlay.

A bridge northwest of Mitchell on 404th Avenue, between 249th and 250th streets. (Luke Hagen / Republic)
A bridge northwest of Mitchell on 404th Avenue, between 249th and 250th streets. (Luke Hagen / Republic)

The county also has plans in 2020 to replace a bridge on the western edge of the county on 394th Street over Firesteel Creek, which is estimated to cost $970,416. A Bridge Improvement Grant from the South Dakota Department of Transportation in the amount of $776,400 will cover most of the project. Similarly, a replacement of a Firesteel Creek bridge on 404th Avenue near Loomis in 2021 received BIG funds for the estimated $1,057,990 project, of which the BIG grant will cover $846,000.

Davison County also sought BIG funds for preliminary engineering for bridge projects for 2020 after applying for two projects. A bridge over the Twelve Mile Creek on 408th Avenue was approved for $19,800 in preliminary engineering, while a second bridge north of Lake Mitchell on 407th Avenue just narrowly missed out on a preliminary engineering grant this year, Weinberg said.

The 2020 total for local costs is estimated at $2,071,962, with $2,886,308 in total project costs, while 2021 projects $2,520,590 in local costs and $3,366,990 in total project costs.

Auditor Susan Kiepke noted the county was not likely to have $3 million a year in the budget for new construction projects for county roads, but Weinberg said he understood that the list was aggressive and changes could be made in the future.

The budget for road repairs has ranged between $2.6 and $3.1 million between 2018 and 2019, while the county’s annual highway department budget is around $4 million each year, generally making up one-third of the county’s overall expenses.

The conversation also covered a few items that were on the county commission’s wish list. Commission Chairwoman Brenda Bode said she would like to see the county try to widen Old Highway 16 and West Havens Avenue between Mount Vernon and Mitchell.

“I’d like to see us figure out how we can make it wider for the tractors pulling their feed wagons,” she said. “I’d like to see us have a shoulder there for getting over.”

From Mount Vernon, a truck travels west on Old Highway 16, also known as 254th Street. (Luke Hagen / Republic)
From Mount Vernon, a truck travels west on Old Highway 16, also known as 254th Street. (Luke Hagen / Republic)

Weinberg said those types of changes would be fairly expensive, such as benching the road, which involves extending the width of the road through a gravel and clay base. He said culverts would likely need to be expanded as well. Weinberg said the road is currently 26 feet wide, and a potential goal would be to get it to 30 feet, so that tractors could get over to the shoulder without being in the opposite lane of traffic.

Bode and Commissioner John Claggett each noted that Old Highway 16 remains a relatively popular route for commuters. SDDOT traffic counts from 2017 showed 4,375 cars on Old Highway 16 just outside Mitchell’s city limits, while more than 1,366 cars were counted on South Ohlman Street where it turns into 408th Avenue. The latter of the two roads has received far more traffic this summer, as people try to avoid road construction taking place on State Highway 37 between Mitchell and Parkston. Weinberg said there was one day earlier this year where he counted 45 cars go by while waiting at one intersection along 408th Avenue.

Weinberg also said there’s uncertainty with the budget going forward because Davison County will be waiting for possible reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Administration for damage that was caused by the spring storms. And Claggett and Weinberg speculated that spring 2020 might not be much better, due to it being a wet year with the possibility of bridges being damaged by debris still in the James River.

“The spring could be tough,” Weinberg said. “You don’t usually see us go into the fall with the water this high.”