Miles to go

Register file photo: A federal grant will help the City of Brookings construct a new Interstate 29 interchange, connecting 214th Street, shown above in the foreground, with 20th Street South, shown in the background. The photo above was taken on the east side of the interstate in July 2018, looking into the city.

Brookings still has a lot of work ahead before an interchange goes in at 20th St. S.

BROOKINGS – Getting the BUILD grant was just the first step. There’s lots more work to be done before Brookings starts building an interchange on 20th Street South, Mayor Keith Corbett said.

Brookings was awarded $18.7 million by the federal BUILD grant this month. The city previously approved committing $2 million to the project; Brookings County has committed $2 million, and $700,000 has been committed from private donors. 

“The public support we’ve had is just unbelievable,” Corbett said. “That’s Brookings; people always step up.”

There are concerns, he knows. The important thing for people to remember, Corbett pointed out, is nothing has been decided yet. For instance, the city has to have professionals come up with a design plan, which will determine how the area around the interchange is affected. 

A lot of work has already gone into the process, including working with federal and state authorities, research into 20th Street South and the existing bridge at 32nd Street South, Corbett said.

Next steps

The first thing the city of Brookings has to do is come up with a design for the interchange. There’s a lot of details to be covered in the process, Corbett said.

“We haven’t even started the design phase yet,” he said.

The city will work with designers, engineers and state officials to see what’s possible structurally and in relation to the topography. 

There will be three 12-foot-wide lanes across the bridge, he confirmed. There will be turn lanes. A stoplight will go in at 20th Street South and 22nd Avenue South, “which is another huge factor, if you look at the traffic on that street,” Corbett said.

Many people are worried how the interchange will impact Edgebrook Golf Course.

“That’s the No. 1 question I’m asked,” Corbett said. “The Park and Rec board will be brought into this discussion.

“Given the popularity of Edgebrook, … my thought right now, is we’ll make every effort to avoid that golf course,” Corbett said.

As to Western Estates, “the owners have talked to us. We’ve kept them in the loop of what’s going on,” he said.

“We’ll get to that when we get the engineering part, the designs. I imagine anything’s possible. It just depends. DOT will have to play a big part of this,” Corbett said.

That’s because after the interchange is built, the DOT will take over the maintenance, so there will be no future cost to the city.

$2 million commitment

The city committed $2 million to the project and it will be budgeted just like any other street work, Corbett said.

“We’re not gonna cut services,” he promised.

“It’s not as though we’ll have to come up with that $2 million tomorrow. We’re gonna have two to three years,” Corbett said. “This is just normal planning in our Capital Improvement Plan. … It’s the same as when we figure out what streets we’re gonna be working on.”

He’s hoping construction will start by 2022 and the interchange will open by 2023.

History

Brookings applied for a Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development – better known as BUILD – grant in 2018. It’s a grant program run by the United States Department of Transportation. 

Only two grants are awarded in each state each year. The 2018 South Dakota grants went to projects in Tea and on Highway 83, according to transportation.gov. 

Tea received $8.7 million to reconstruct a section of County Road 106 just west of Interstate 29, turning it from a three-lane to a four-lane road with traffic signals and turn lanes.

It was Tea’s fourth application for a BUILD grant, Corbett noted.

The Highway 83 project will reconstruct and improve 23 miles between Murdo and White River and will include replacing three bridges. That grant was for $20 million. 

Try, try again

Brookings received encouragement to apply again in 2019, Corbett said.

“When we didn’t get the grant, we talked to the reviewer in Washington and said, ‘what could we do differently?’ So they were very open with us, told us, ‘here’s how you can work on this,’” Corbett said.

They got support closer to home, too.

“The Secretary of Transportation for South Dakota, Darin Bergquist and, of course, Gov. (Kristi) Noem wrote letters for us. Our members of Congress were very instrumental in this happening. Not only did they write letters, they reached out to Secretary (Elaine) Chao, who’s the Secretary of Transportation for the United States, and I’m sure that had to have an impact,” Corbett said.

Brookings was also put on South Dakota’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

“And my understanding is that helped our chances because we’re now on the state STIP,” Corbett said.

The city also worked with the Brookings Economic Development Corporation, which “played a huge part in this,” Corbett said.

There was lots of support from all over.

“The private sector’s been huge, stepping up to this. Right from when we first started talking, the private sector (asked) how do we get involved. And they’ve certainly agreed to write the checks. It’s been fantastic,” Corbett said.

“That’s one thing that they said they really liked about our grant was that we had the public/private ownership,” he added.

Why 20th Street South?

The city had to write an Interstate Justification Report as part of the grant application to explain the impact the interchange would have and why it was needed at 20th Street South, including diverting traffic away from the heavily used Sixth Street and 22nd Avenue intersection, which is the main way into Brookings from the east.

Corbett sees a lot of reasons an interchange at 20th Street South will help.

It will be quicker for residents in south Brookings to get to jobs in the industrial corridor and for visitors to get to places like Bob Shelden Field and events at the campuses in the Brookings School District.

He thinks it will greatly help neighbors to the east because having an interchange at 20th Street South will feed traffic right into Redmond Road on the south edge of Aurora.

“That’s huge for Aurora,” Corbett said.

Not only will it help workers commuting to Brookings get to large employers like Daktronics and 3M, but it will reduce truck traffic significantly through the Sixth Street and 22nd Avenue intersection, he said.

“One thing that I like is when you look at our schools on the south side of Brookings, as we develop south, young people are being bused in from Aurora,” Corbett said. “That’s always been one of my biggest concerns is the bus traffic. And this way the buses that are bringing students in from Aurora can come straight across on 20th Street South.”

32nd Street bridge

Why does the city want an interchange at 20th Street South when there is a bridge at 32nd Street South? 

For starters, the 32nd Street bridge isn’t owned by the city of Brookings. It’s under the jurisdiction of the South Dakota Department of Transportation; therefore the city of Brookings can’t do anything to it. Corbett said a good analogy would be you wanting to build a porch on your neighbor’s house. 

Even if the state would be willing to let the city do something to the bridge, a project like that would not qualify for a BUILD grant; all the money would have to come from the City of Brookings, and it would cost a lot more than the $2 million the city is prepared to spend. Corbett isn’t willing to sink that amount of money into a structure the age and condition of the 32nd Street South bridge. 

Construction isn’t physically possible to turn the bridge into an interchange anyway, Corbett said.

“There’s no place to put ramps, and we looked at it. The state’s the one that said there’s no way you could put on and off ramps on it. There isn’t enough land. … That eliminated that right away,” Corbett said. “And just to have an overpass really isn’t what we need. We need an interchange.”

Another problem is the bridge at 32nd Street was built in 1966 and is due for work in the near future, according to the DOT.

“A project for abutment repairs and a polymer chip seal on the bridge deck was awarded last month with the work planned for 2020,” according to an email from David Coley, bridge management engineer with the SDDOT Office of Bridge Design.

The bridge isn’t in pristine condition, either.

“The DOT said it was struck four times by over-height vehicles. Obviously, it’s still utilized,” Corbett said.

Jason Bowes, president and owner of Bowes Construction, told the Brookings City Council in June that his employees haul stuff across that bridge every day. It has low clearance over the interstate, so it tends to get hit. It’s very narrow so people have to wait until farm equipment gets across; it’s also hard to see the equipment coming because of the design of the bridge, he said.

“It’s an old bridge and it would cost more to remove everything that’s there (and rebuild) … than to start somewhere new,” Bowes said.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]

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