Yankton commissioner hopes to bridge funding gap

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Roads are the literal driving force for access to our communities.
But in Yankton County the commission is having a tough time finding funds to pay for road and bridge repair.

Budgets are tight and about to get even tighter next year across the state of South Dakota.
What do rural communities do when expenses expand as their budgets shrink?

One Yankton County Commissioner says he might have an idea.
It’s something people can’t find anywhere in South Dakota, toll roads. But Commissioner Gary Swenson wants to bring toll bridges to Yankton County.

He talked about the idea at a meeting Tuesday night and he says it could put the pedal to the metal when it comes to increasing revenue for bridge repairs.
“We can’t seem to get any money, and we can’t raise taxes on wheel tax, we're just up against a wall every place we go, and it's something we need to think about,” Commissioner Gary Swenson said.

The county has tried to raise taxes two separate times to pay for road repairs and each time it was voted down.

Swenson says the county could charge anywhere from a few cents to a dollar for drivers to use the Fleeg and Johnson bridges.

“The Fleeg Bridge that's on the old Highway 50, the original 50 that came through before it was moved. And the other one is called the Johnson Bridge, and that connects with Highway 81 over to the Welsh town, which is 444 at the four way stop,” he said.

Both are in need of repairs

“When I see heavy trucks go over the bridge, that does concern me, you won't see me on the bridge at same time. Not at the same time as one of the bigger trucks. I don't trust it that much,” Yankton County resident John Riibe said about the Johnson Bridge.

While some community members say they could get behind this…

“I don't think it's a bad idea for Yankton County because we are so far in the red as far as Yankton County goes, and we just don't have the money to pay these. So, as long as they stay on paved roads and make it reasonable, I think the citizens would be OK with it,” Yankton County resident Daniel Grant said.

Others hope the rest of the commission will pump the brakes on the idea.

“I don't think that's right because we all pay taxes, and those bridges have been here a long time, and they knew a long time ago that they needed maintenance, and I don't see why they couldn't have put that into their budget,” Yankton County resident Rick Johnson said.

This was the first time this idea was discussed at an open commission meeting and none of the commissioners knew that commissioner Swenson was going to bring it up. Swensen says he does plan on bringing it to the commission again later this month. He says this wasn’t his idea, it was brought to him from a member of the community.
If this idea becomes a reality, it wouldn’t be the first time Yankton had a toll bridge. In fact, the Meridian Bridge was a toll bridge for several years until construction for the project was paid off in 1953.
Commissioner Todd Woods says while the county has been working to find funding for roads for several years, he worries this idea just isn't feasible at this point.