- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - South Dakotans began driving faster and paying more for fuel Wednesday as the state raised the speed limit to 80 mph on two major interstates and increased its gas tax by 6 cents per gallon.

The changes came as a result of a transportation funding package that Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed last month that aims to raise more than $80 million in its first year to fix ailing roads and bridges in the state.

South Dakota now becomes the latest state to allow drivers to legally travel at speeds as high as 80 mph. Texas, Utah and Wyoming already allow those speeds and others are considering it.

Many drivers praised the higher speed limit for Interstates 29 and 90 and said it could cut down on travel time in a state where it’s not uncommon to travel great distances between cities and see few other cars.

But some worried the higher speeds may not be good for everyone.

John Sandbulte, a Minnesota resident who commutes to Sioux Falls for work, said he would probably still drive between 75 and 80 mph as he did before, but thinks some cars might not be able to handle the higher speeds.

“I work on cars for a living, so I see a lot of stuff that’s out there that’s not exactly safe for this kind of speed,” Sandbulte said as he filled up his car at a gas station in Brandon.

An Associated Press report on Monday revealed that many tractor-trailers on the nation’s roads are driven faster than the 75 mph their tires are designed to handle, a practice that has been linked to wrecks and blowouts.

Tire and trucking industry groups blame the states for allowing unsafe speeds, but state officials note the speed limit doesn’t require truckers to go that fast and say they should be aware of how fast their equipment can safely travel.

“If you’re allowed to go the maximum of 80 mph, it doesn’t mean you have to drive 80,” said House Majority Leader Brian Gosch, who sponsored the speed limit change as part of the road and bridge funding legislation.

Gosch said he wasn’t familiar with the truck tire design issue, but that the potential for tractor-trailer crashes at high speeds concerned him.

The 80 mph speed limit came bundled with the transportation package that will use the 6-cent gas tax increase along with increased license plate fees and a higher motor vehicle excise tax to fund road and bridge projects.

Terry Wixon, a retired Brandon resident who still works at the part-time at the Coffee Cup Fuel Stop off I-90, said he thought the higher gas tax would unfairly burden poorer residents, especially as gas prices have fallen recently.

“And then what happens? The government comes along and taxes the heck of them, thinking they won’t notice it.”

___

Associated Press writer James Nord contributed to this report from Pierre.

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