Johnson: Bridge will open up new horizons in region by David Lias Sen. Tim Johnson relishes every opportunity he has to return home to Vermillion.
His Saturday visit here was made even more special, he said, by his participation in an event that marks the beginning of a dream come true for the Vermillion region.
Johnson joined local dignitaries from Clay County, the city of Vermillion, and Newcastle, NE in groundbreaking ceremonies for the Newcastle/Vermillion bridge.
The span across the Missouri River will provide a vital link between Nebraska and South Dakota, he noted.
"I've had the honor of being involved in a number of other construction projects all across the state of South Dakota in my years in the Legislature and in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate," he said.
Those projects have ranged from university buildings in Brookings and water projects in the state's West River region, to highways and bridges in other areas of the state.
"But I do take a particular satisfaction in having been part of a team of Nebraskans and South Dakotans that came together to make this Vermillion/Newcastle bridge a reality," Johnson said.
Johnson said he remembers how efforts aimed at spanning the river in the Vermillion/Newcastle region began decades ago, and included all sorts of ideas, from bridges to low level dams.
None of those options came to fruition, he said. Shortly after he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, he remembers Vermillion leaders asking him to seek funding authorization in Washington for the bridge.
"I was hopeful, but not overly hopeful that this was a project that we could do," Johnson said. "It was one that had been struggled on for many, many years without success."
Johnson said it became apparent, however, that progress could be made after he had a conversation with Nebraska Congressman Doug Bereuter.
"We talked about construction and engineering options between Nebraska and our state," he said. "We established a strategy working with the local leaders, the bridge committees, in Nebraska and South Dakota, and were able to get the Springfield and Vermillion bridges authorized."
The authorization process was complicated, and took nearly a decade.
"This is an exciting time for us that we've come this far," Johnson said. "It took a joint effort to make this happen."
The Newcastle/Vermillion bridge, he added, was never viewed as a project that would benefit the region at the expense of others.
"There are always those who fear that some other community is going to get a project and somehow that is going to be to their detriment. We never saw it that way in the Vermillion/Newcastle region.
"We recognized that if Springfield gets a bridge, that's good for Vermillion, that's good for Newcastle, that's good for South Dakota," Johnson added. "If Vermillion gets a bridge, along with Newcastle, that's good for Yankton, that's good for Springfield, that's good for Rapid City and Aberdeen. That's good for everyone."
The southeast quadrant of South Dakota has been one of the principal engines of economic growth and population expansion for the state.
Adding to the prosperity of the region, he said, are the Lewis and Clark Water Project, area highway construction, and improvements to The University of South Dakota.
"I think we are embarking on an exciting era for this region of South Dakota and for Nebraska as well," Johnson said. "Things seem to be taking off now that really seem to bode well for the long term growth and prosperity, the expansion of opportunities for ourselves, and even more importantly for our kids and grandkids in this entire region."
The Newcastle/Vermillion bridge, he added, is a key component to the area's future economic success.
"Congratulations to everyone here for their work and their tenacity. There were a lot of people who for a long, long time said this is just one more project that won't happen, and we proved them wrong," he said. "We broke that dirt today, and remarkably enough, not much more than a year from now, we may be driving back and forth."
Economic opportunities and medical care will be enhanced, thanks to the bridge, Johnson said. He also said the span over the river would create a stronger relationship between Wayne State College in Nebraska and USD.
"We're going to see friendships established that were never possible before," Johnson said.
While growing up in Vermillion, he became friends with people in Yankton, Meckling, Vermillion, Burbank and other South Dakota communities along the river.
"I didn't have friends in Nebraska, because there was no way to get across there to establish those relationships," he said. "Now that's going to change. I think it's going to open up vast new horizons of opportunity for citizens in both states."