There appears to be a consensus that Lake County roads need improvement. That isn't new. But the approach is changing, and we think it's for the better.
Maintaining county roads and bridges is complicated and expensive. Our climate is particularly hard on roads, and heavier vehicles are running on roads that weren't designed for that weight.
Some of Lake County's roads date back more than a century and were constructed with little engineering in mind. County roads connect to, and are mixed in with, state highways, city streets, township roads and private drives.
Traffic patterns change, also, with development and changing agriculture uses. Roads that were rarely used can now be heavily trafficked.
So amidst all these changes, Lake County commissioners file a five-year plan each year with the South Dakota Department of Transportation, listing maintenance and repair activities, bridge replacement, estimated costs and funding sources. It's a challenge to prioritize when there are many needs and a budget to stay within.
But we think current activity and the upcoming plan show the possibility of making progress in coming years. Most controversial is the "depaving" of eight miles of county roads, converting them to gravel. County staff determined that they are essentially unrepairable and need to start over.
The traditional goal of overlaying five miles a year is also being reconsidered. Only one mile is scheduled for 2021, with money shifted to replacing culverts that are failing. We think this is a sound decision. Five miles was an arbitrary number, and we need to be more calculating in how to spend tax money on roads.
County Highway Superintendent Nels Nelson worked at the state Department of Transportation, which went through its own reprioritizing during the Daugaard administration. That experience should help here.
Lake County residents will need a lot of patience in coming years as roads are slowly repaired, maintained and rebuilt. But we do think progress is on the horizon.
-- Jon M. Hunter