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Numbers indicate the federal sufficiency rating of each of the bridges in Stanley County. The scale goes from 0 to 100, and indicates the bridge's sufficiency to remain in service. (Dave Askins/Capital Journal)

Stanley County hopes to get $77,501 from the state to help with preliminary engineering work on two bridges – one that needs to be replaced and another that needs shoring up to stop the scouring action of water.

At their Tuesday meeting, shifted from July 3 due to the holiday, commissioners approved going ahead with an application for grants through the state's Bridge Improvement Grant (BIG) program. The commission's approval commits the county to 20 percent of the project cost, which would make the county’s share $19,375, if both applications are awarded. The total project cost for the two bridges is $96,877.

The vote on the applications came after a briefing at the meeting from Scott Schweitzer, with Brosz Engineering. Schweitzer walked them through the details of the two bridges.

One of the bridges is located four miles southwest of Wendte. Its current federal sufficiency rating is 73.1 out of a 100-point scale. Bridges with a rating over 50 might not require replacement, but still need some work. That's consistent with Stanley County's plan for the Wendte bridge, which is to apply for a preliminary engineering BIG grant for "additional riprap to prevent future undermining of the abutments and piling."

The other BIG candidate bridge for Stanley County is on Bad River Road, 8.5 west of US-83. Its sufficiency rating is 52.7. The grant application says, "As one of the few collectors in the area, the county would like to replace the structure to reliably service local and through traffic."

Highway superintendent Lee Smith reminded commissioners that when the sufficiency rating of a bridge approaches 50, it could eventually require posting of weight restrictions. "We don't want to wait until the bridge gets a load limit on it. It's full weight now," he said.

Three of the county's bridges are already posted with weight restrictions. One of those has a sufficiency rating of just 26. It's about a mile south of War Creek Road on the east side of US-83. It's a bridge Schweitzer mentioned as probably a good candidate for BIG funding, but he said he understood why it was not a priority for the county to address. If it were closed, motorists would still have a reasonable alternative route. "There's ways around it all over," Schweitzer said.

The length of the required detour if a bridge were to be closed is one of the variables in the formula used by the state to evaluate grant applications in the competitive process, Schweitzer told commissioners. For the Bad River bridges, he said, the length of the required detour was shown in the software as 0, which he said was obviously not accurate. It's something he’ll check into before the applications are submitted. They're due by the end of the month, he said.

The applications for the two bridges are evaluated separately. Schweitzer thinks the application for the replacement project will rank higher due to the lower sufficiency rating. He feels it has a "decent" chance of getting funded.

Preliminary engineering includes analysis and design work to produce construction plans, specifications and cost estimates, but doesn't include construction. After preliminary engineering is done, it's possible to apply for BIG grants to fund construction.

The BIG program is in some sense a way for counties to compete for the redistribution of fees the counties themselves collect through motor vehicle fees. The motor vehicle fee is divvied up initially as follows: Stanley County (22.5 percent), townships (14 percent), municipalities (5 percent), county supply fee (.25 percent), State of South Dakota (58.25 percent).

The largest chunk of the 58.25 percent that is sent to the state is distributed back to local entities. The 58.25 percent breaks down as follows: 54 percent shared back to local entities; 1.75 percent retained in the State Motor Vehicle Fund; 2.5 percent retained in State License Plate Special Revenue Fund.

Since 2015, when new legislation was passed, the first bite out of that 54 percent has been $7 million for the new Bridge Improvement Grant (BIG) program. Money in the BIG program does find its way back to the local level – but it's through a competitive process that evaluates proposed local bridge replacement projects based on points.

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