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Rural Transportation Issues Drive New Bills in Congress

December 2, 2011

MILBANK, S. D. - The latest draft of a six-year transportation bill emerging from the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee includes some improvements that could benefit rural areas. Part of the legislation focuses on funding road and bridge repair.

Rural areas often have the largest number of aging bridges – and that is certainly the case in Grant County, according to County Auditor Karen Layher.

"Most of our bridges were built back in the '30s and the '40s, and are desperately in need of being replaced or repaired."

Layher says the county has several of its road crew workers dedicated to bridge repair, but at the current rate of funding, the backlog is substantial.

"We're averaging about six to seven bridges a year. But at that rate, it's going to take us – just to get through them, you know – 10 to 12 years."

Of the 168 bridges in Grant County, Layher says they will spend almost $3 million this year on repairs and replacements.

Members of Congress have been debating how to fund transportation and infrastructure spending for months. Part of the controversy is whether the legislation should cover a six-year or two-year term; there is also concern that the gas tax won't raise nearly enough to cover the cost.

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD