Recent Op-Eds

This summer, South Dakotans will be reminded of the importance of the federal highway system as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Federal-Aid Highway Program. In June of 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act into law. Ike not only envisioned the highway system as a way to ease congestion in major cities and improve speedy, safe and transcontinental travel, but also recalled an earlier age when he was an officer and joined a military convoy that took over two months to cross the country on a disorganized road system.

The federal highway bill that Ike would sign to improve the American road system would end up bringing $500 million and over 670 miles of interstate highways to South Dakota. Between 1957 and 2005, South Dakota received over $4 billion in federal highway funds. Fifty years later it is fitting for us to celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of one of the most important public infrastructure projects in modern history.

While Interstates 29 and 90 account for only two percent of the total roadway miles in the state, their economic impact on our state is enormous. From 2001 to 2006, the amount of visitor dollars spent in South Dakota increased from $600 million to over $800 million. Additionally, approximately 33,000 South Dakota jobs are directly related to the tourism industry, which is bolstered by the Interstates and federal highways that criss-cross South Dakota. Many well-known destination spots thrive along the interstate, including Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, Wall Drug, Murdo's Pioneer Auto Show, Cabela's, Al's Oasis, the Corn Palace, and many others. Hundreds of thousands of motorcycles also travel the interstates every year for the Sturgis Bike Rally.

I-90 and I-29 also carry half of all large commercial truck traffic in the state. To put this in perspective, over $45 billion in goods are shipped to and from locations in the state via the Interstate system. Because of the efficiency of the Interstates in South Dakota, drivers save over $400 million in fuel costs every year.

Without the hard work of South Dakota's congressional delegation, the Interstate highways would not have benefited our state to the extent they have. Through South Dakota Senator Francis Case's work on the Public Works Committee in the late 1950s, I-29 was extended another 1,000 miles. Case and his fellow Senator Karl Mundt also made sure that I-29 went from Sioux Falls to Brookings, Watertown, and North Dakota instead of through western Minnesota as some initially proposed.

While a great deal of work has been done to create South Dakota's road network, the work Eisenhower, Case and Mundt started needs to continue. Covering large distances will always be a way of life in South Dakota, and I am committed to making sure that folks can do so safely.

During my six years in the House of Representatives, I was fortunate to continue their work by serving on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. In the late 1990s, I worked with local, state, and federal officials to secure funding for the first phase of the four-lane Heartland Expressway from Rapid City to Hermosa. Additionally, I was able to secure funds for the four-lane highways from Aberdeen to I-29, from Huron to Mitchell, and from Pierre to I-90, and money to replace the Meridian Bridge in Yankton. Some of these projects are completed and the others are well underway.

Presently, I serve on the Environment and Public Works Committee in the Senate, which has jurisdiction over much of our nation's highway system. Just last year, as a member of this Committee, I was able to protect our State's share of federal transportation dollars as part of the five-year transportation bill. As a result of the bill President Bush signed, South Dakota will see $1.3 billion, or a 30 percent increase in federal highway funding, including dollars for many important projects across the state, such as: the $12 million interchange at 12th street and I-29 in Sioux Falls, $69 million to complete the Heartland Expressway to the Nebraska state line, and $15 million to replace the bridge over the Missouri River in Chamberlain. These are just a handful of the federally funded projects I was able to secure for South Dakota by working with the rest of our Congressional Delegation.

In a state with vast open lands and endless prairies, it is important to ensure that our state is connected to our national transportation system. Little did I know when I was growing up in the I-90 town of Murdo that our highway transportation system would have such an impact on our way of life. Now, in the United States Senate, I take great pride in working to improve South Dakota's transportation infrastructure. As we mark this 50th anniversary of the Federal Highway Act, I look forward to working with state and local leaders to improve the quality of life even more in South Dakota.