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From resurfacing roads to preventing ice jams: 6 road projects South Dakotans should know about

From resurfacing roads to preventing ice jams: 6 road projects South Dakotans should know about

Joe Sneve

Sioux Falls Argus Leader


The COVID-19 pandemic stalled South Dakota highway work for a time last spring, but that didn't stop the state transportation department from completing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of road construction projects.

The South Dakota Department of Transportation each year budgets about $600 million for road work all across the state's 7,800 centerline miles of road, with projects ranging from patching and overlaying highways to completely rebuilding them. Safety enhancements on existing roads also get a share of those funds.

The Argus Leader this week talked with officials at the DOT about the major projects wrapped up last year and why those investments were made. Here's the run down.

Nearly a billion pounds of asphalt in Belle Fourche area

Over in the Belle Fourche area, the DOT used 433,000 tons of asphalt hot mix to resurface 130 miles of roads.

The bulk of that work entailed 41 miles of US Highway 212 and 49 miles of US Highway 85, north of Belle Fourche.

Mike Behm, the DOT's director of planning and engineering, said resurfacing a road with an asphalt overlay can extend the overall life of a road and stave off more expensive reconstruction projects.

"It's pay me now or pay me later," he said. 

'Huge effort' in Sioux Falls

Veterans Parkway

Last year marked the connection of Interstate 90 to Veterans Parkway, the express route in eastern Sioux Falls that's been in the works for nearly a decade. 

Work started on the Veterans Parkway project in 2008 and has spanned the 7.5 miles between 57th Street and South Dakota's only east-west interstate system.

"The biggest one that we finished was the Veterans Parkway connection," Behm said. "It was really a huge effort, huge partnership with the city of Sioux Falls, Brandon and the counties."

The new highway, which partially runs along what used to be referred to as Highway 11 and Powder House Road, cost more than $121 million is expected to ease congestion on I-229 and spur new industrial activity in northeast Sioux Falls and Brandon.

Curbing curve danger

Curbing Curve Danger

South Dakota's DOT was the first in the country to begin using what's called a "high friction surface treatment" to prevent winter weather crashes in spot areas. And last season 10 highway curves with a high rate of winter crashes in the Black Hills were applied with the epoxy and bauxite rock chips that make a road surfaces less slippery during snow events.

In all, 30 curves got the treatment, running the state about $1.3 for the materials and work.

The use of high friction surface treatment started in more southern states where it was used to keep vehicles from hydroplaning during heavy rains. That caught the attention of the South Dakota DOT a few years ago, and they quickly began testing its effectiveness for winter driving on Interstate 229 along the curve between the 18th Street overpass and the 26th Street interchange.

Behm said that resulted in a 80% drop in crashes during snow events there.   

"Our goal is getting everybody home and healthy every day," he said. "So we’re always looking for improvements that may not be rebuilding a highway but helping some of those behavior aspects."

Smoothing roads and drainage

A stretch of US Highway 14 near Ft. Pierre got a makeover with a $6.6 million project that saw construction span nearly 13 miles of road.

According to the DOT's latest road project report, three box culverts and nine pipe culverts were replaced, more than 30 other culverts were cleaned and repaired and 35,000 tons of asphalt concrete was laid west of Ft. Pierre.

Preventing ice jams 

Preventing Ice Jams

Among the largest projects tackled by the DOT of late, the reconstruction of US Highway 83 between Murdo and White River isn't quite complete yet.

So far, crews have reconstructed and resurfaced three new bridges, including one over the White River that was designed to prevent flooding during springtime ice jams. The new highway will be smoother and flatter and include wider shoulders to benefit safety and drivers' comfort, according to the report.

In all, it's a $60 million project that spans 23 miles. Work is expected to continue through 2022.

Overhaul in Brookings


The Ft. Pierre-area project wasn't the only work done to US Highway 14 last year. Another multi-year project along the highway where it's locally known as 6th Street saw not only total road reconstruction, but also drainage improvements and storm sewer upgrades.

A $4.8 million expense for the state, the project also required a lot of cooperation with the Brookings County and the city of Brookings, Behm said.

"There’s a big community connection in all the projects we do," he said. "There are a lot of public meetings, landowner meetings and what the future of the transportation needs will be in the area."

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