Entities working to get interchange at 20th St. S., I-29

BROOKINGS – Entities connected to the planned interchange project at 20th Street South and Interstate 29 have been busy preparing for another shot at federal grant dollars after they received news that their previous application was denied by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The project to put in an interchange at 20th Street South and I-29 was estimated by city officials to cost more than $18 million. With that cost too much for the city to tackle alone, the Brookings City Council went ahead with applying for a federal BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grant to help fund the project, applying for about $11.5 million.

The city would contribute $3.6 million toward the project, while Brookings County would chip in $2 million, with about $1.8 million from local private donors and businesses, according to Brookings Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Al Heuton.

The need for grant funds is crucial for this project to continue, Brookings Mayor Keith Corbett said.

“It would be difficult without that. I think this project is too crucial for us not to continue to pursue it,” Corbett said. “What this would do for the south side of Brookings is open up Brookings, take some of the pressure off Sixth Street and 22nd Avenue. It’s crucial for us to move forward as a city, that we receive this grant and continue to work on it at this time.”

Competition for grant dollars was fierce, according to Heuton. He wrote the federal grant application, which was submitted in July 2018. The federal government had more than $1 billion available through the BUILD grant, but there were $12 billion in requests with more than 850 applicants.

“As with any program, there was quite a bit of competition. In this particular case, this was the first time Brookings has submitted for one of these, so there was a learning curve in terms of the application process and content and what they’re looking for on the review side,” Heuton said.

From the total pool of applicants, the Brookings interchange project was selected as one of 250 to move on as a recommended application, he added. But from that pool of 250, only about 90 projects were approved for receiving funds, and it’s at this point the Brookings project failed to move on.

He and others working on the project were informed that they were not among the final projects chosen to receive grant dollars back in December. That the project did at least gain initial recommendation does show some promise for future applications.

“I think we made a fairly compelling argument, but of course not compelling enough to get funded this time around. We’ll work on that. They did give us some pointers for the next time around, some things that’d help beef the application up a bit more. So, we’ll get those changes made,” Heuton said.

According to him, the interchange represents a chance to improve traffic flow as the city continues to grow to the south and with many of the city’s major employers located along either side of the interstate.

“22nd Avenue is still a busy road, a busy intersection at Sixth Street. As we grow, that’s going to be more problematic. Finding ways to separate some of that industrial traffic and commuter traffic by having that 20th Street (South) interchange would reduce congestion along Sixth Street and the north part of 22nd Avenue,” Heuton said.

Corbett said they had the support from the South Dakota Department of Transportation, the governor’s office and U.S. Congresspersons for their application in 2018, and they’ll pursue their support again for any future applications.

The project planning group is now working on preparing its application for the grant when it comes up again.

“We’ve got a small planning group from the last go-around that sat in on the conversation with U.S. DOT to learn what we need to do to improve the application for the project. We start meeting again … to begin talking about how we can make those changes and what we need to get done for the next round,” Heuton said.

“We’re just waiting now to hear if there’s going to be another round of funding and when. Then we’ll move forward,” Corbett said.

Having learned from his first application attempt and gained advice from people within the U.S. DOT, Heuton has a good idea of how to change his approach for the next submission.

When that will be is unknown at the moment, in part because of delays stemming from the partial federal government shutdown in January.

There are preliminary designs for the interchange already, and although the city had conducted a traffic study of the intersection at 22nd Avenue and Sixth Street, the U.S. DOT has indicated to Heuton that another traffic study would be useful. That’s because the initial traffic study was done before the overall of the intersection was complete, and they want to know how much of an impact the work there has had on improving traffic conditions and safety.

“I think from our perspective, it hasn’t completely solved the problem, and as the community continues to grow, the engineering studies and comprehensive transportation plan for the city has suggested that a full interchange at 20th Street is really the best solution long-term,” Heuton said.

There aren’t many other options for grants that fit this project. To Heuton’s knowledge, there is just one other federal grant program that could work, but with the review criteria in place for that grant, the chances of being accepted are slimmer than with BUILD.

“This is really the best single source of funding for a project like this,” Heuton said.

Contact Eric Sandbulte at esandbulte@brookingsregister.com.

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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