Butte County awarded state, federal bridge grants

Butte County was recently awarded $2.35 million worth of state and federal grants to improve its dire bridge conditions. Pictured is the Eichler Road Bridge, which was closed in 2016 due to dangerous conditions. Portions of the structure have since fallen into the water below. Pioneer photo by Lacey Peterson

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BUTTE COUNTY — There may be a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel for Butte County and its backlog of ailing bridges after receiving word that it has been awarded $2.35 million worth of state and federal bridge grant funds.

The county was among 35 in the state awarded preliminary engineering funds from the state’s Bridge Improvement Grant (BIG) program.

The South Dakota Transportation Commission announced Thursday the local and regional projects awarded BIG funds totaling $1.42 million. Butte County was awarded two preliminary engineering grants, totaling $103,000. 

The Orman Road Bridge, northwest of Newell, was funded $51,500. Likewise, the Old Highway 85 Bridge over Four Mile Creek northeast of Belle Fourche was awarded $51,500 worth of state funds.

The BIG program was created in 2015 by Senate Bill 1. SB 1 set aside $7 million per year from funds generated by license plate fees to be used to repair and replace aging local bridges. The S.D. Department of Transportation adds an additional $8 million annually, making $15 million available statewide.

The state considered 43 applications totaling $1.743 million in requested grant funds. One city submitted one application and 18 counties submitted a total of 42 applications.

Local governments are required to pay a minimum of 20% matching funds and have three years to expend the grant money. 

Butte County, in conjunction with Meade and Lawrence counties, was also awarded a total of $2.24 million for the combined bridge project called the West River Counties Bridge Replacement Project.

The joint project applied for a piece of a $225 million federal pie aimed at helping rural counties replace ailing bridges. By law, the funds are restricted to states with a population density of less than 100 people per square mile. Twenty-five states qualify, including South Dakota.

Four bridges were selected for the bundled application – one in each Butte and Meade counties and two in Lawrence County. The bridges are on county highways, serving as important connectors for local communities and supporting local and regional economies. The project will replace Orman Road over Horse Creek in Butte County, Opal Road over Beaver Dam Creek in Meade County, and two St. Onge Road bridges over False Bottom Creek in Lawrence County.

Congress funded the CHBP grant program in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, from the U.S. Treasury’s General Fund.

Kim Richards, Butte County Commission chairman, said he was excited to hear the news about the funding opportunities allotted to assist the county’s bridges.

“This is huge for us,” he told the Pioneer Friday.

Richards said that although the federal grant funded the combined project at $2.24 million, that comes in a little short of the total project cost, requiring the counties to front more of the costs for the projects.

“We put in for over $3 million,” he said. “So we’re going to end up with a little bit bigger match than the 80-20%.”

The grant program requires the county match at least 20% of the total cost. The Orman Road Bridge that Butte County selected for the joint project will cost approximately $700,000. 

“So obviously that’s (the higher match amount required is) always still going to be an issue, but we’re still going to be able to fund it one way or another,” Richards said.

Although he is still unsure exactly how much the county will need to fund, he said Jason Hanson, with Brosz Engineering, the county’s contracted engineering firm, estimated somewhere around 25%, or $175,000.

“This extra funding is going to be so crucial in the future … when we do get these grants, that we can match them and move forward with these projects,” Richards said. “Because when you have a $1.5 million (total county) budget and zero funding coming from general fund, there just isn’t a lot of room to do extra things. We’ve just got to find extra funding so we can buy gravel and do the matching funds and keep the bridges in the condition they need to be kept (in) to increase their longevity.” 

The bridgework is not scheduled to begin for two to three years, Richards said.

“It’s a slow process,” he said.

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