South Dakota will divert some federal highway money to safety issues because the state falls short of national standards when it comes to drunken driving laws.
The state expects to receive $240 million in federal money this year for roads and bridges. About $12 million will be restricted to safety issues because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says South Dakota has substandard penalties for repeat drunken driving offenders and also allows restaurant diners to take home partially full bottles of wine, the Argus Leader newspaper reported.
“We won’t lose the $12 million. It’s just being restricted and repurposed a little bit,” state Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist said.
Federal officials reviewed states’ drunken-driving laws after Congress updated highway programs last year, and it appears the federal government has tightened its application of the rules, said Jack Basso, chief operating officer of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. South Dakota is one of 33 states not measuring up to national standards.
But safety advocates say it is too easy for states to shift money between safety and construction budgets.
“Even if your funding is transferred to state safety activities, there’s a trapdoor in that that allows them to put the money back into construction programs,” said Henry Jasny, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
Restricted money in South Dakota will go to such projects as reconfiguring hazardous curves, adding shoulders to roadways and marking pavement.
“Certainly we see the merits of increased awareness of safety on roads,” Bergquist said. “But anytime we get a federal mandate … we prefer to have the option to do what we think is best in South Dakota.”