SDDOT considers safety in planning roadway improvements - Daily Leader Extra : Top Stories

SDDOT considers safety in planning roadway improvements

By MARY GALES ASKREN, Staff Reporter | Posted: Tuesday, August 13, 2019 1:56 pm

Drivers tired of delays and pilot cars along SD-34 can blame Mother Nature.

Travis Dressen, project engineer with the South Dakota Department of Transportation, said the contractor, Loiseau Construction of Flandreau, had agreed to complete the $3.2 million turn lane project by July 3. Unfortunately, the late snow and flooding this spring delayed the start date by more than six weeks, throwing the entire project behind schedule.

The current completion date is set for Oct. 18.

"The project came together once the rain stopped and things dried up a little," Dressen said.

The project includes 7 turn lanes, according to Andy Vandel, highway safety engineer with the SDDOT, including one on SD-19. Along SD-34, turn lanes have been added or extended at 461st, 462nd, 463rd, 464th and the Dakota Ethanol turn lane east of Madison, and at 437th two miles east of Howard.

On SD-19, a turn lane has been added at 236th.

This type of project is relatively new for the SDDOT, according to Dressen.

"It's not something that got done very often in the past," he indicated.

Vandel explained the project -- which has long been advocated by Madison residents, including former Mayor Roy Lindsay -- resulted from the development of new planning tools, including the South Dakota Strategic Highway Safety Plan. The cover of the plan identifies its driving principle: Every Life Counts.

Developed by the state Department of Transportation and state Department of Public Safety in partnership with the Federal Highway Commission, the safety plan identifies strategies and options to reduce fatal and serious injury crashes. By using detailed crash statistics to identify primary contributing factors, the agencies were able to identify priority areas and countermeasures.

Among the basic components of the plan are infrastructure improvements -- such as the turn lanes which have been added to SD-34 and SD-19. Lindsay was thrilled to see this development.

"When they started it this year, I thought, `Alright!'" he said.

For years, a local group has lobbied the SDDOT for a four-lane highway from Madison to I-29. However, former Gov. Dennis Daugaard told Madison residents in 2015 the roadway doesn't have enough traffic to merit a four-lane highway according to standards established by the SDDOT. A report in the Madison Daily Leader reported Daugaard said

the busiest section of SD-34 was seeing around 5,000 vehicles per day with other sections having between 3,600 and 3,800 vehicles per day. He indicated the SDDOT wanted to see 16,000 vehicles per day before installing a four-lane and 8,000 per day before making significant improvements to a roadway.

In August 2015, when Madison hosted Capital for a Day, Lindsay said he made a presentation which demonstrated how traffic along SD-34 was impacted by Dakota Ethanol and industrial development in the community.

"The amount of traffic flow increased dramatically," he said.

Lindsay asked for turn lanes by Sioux Valley Energy east of Colman and at the Chester corner as well as a lengthened turn lane for the ethanol plant. He said that when a semi is pulling a pup as well as a trailer, the time to slow prior to making a turn is increased.

"When I'm following a double semi, before they can get into the turn lane, they were slowing down to 20 to 30 mph," he reported. "The turn lanes were made for cars and pickups."

When Daugaard spoke with community members, the road design manual primarily considered the number of turns being made at an intersection, according to Vandel. However, shortly after that, the department began to use a new tool -- predictive crash analysis.

"It's a tool that shows where your crashes are likely to occur," Vandel explained. "We still use turning movement, as well, but it's not the only thing we use."

In 2016, once the new tools were utilized in the planning process, turn lanes on SD-34 and SD-19 were added to the SDDOT's Five-Year Plan. The Daily Leader
 reported that Lindsay received word of this after the Madison Hosts the Legislature event in Pierre where he had again pitched the idea of turn lanes to the governor.

Lindsay said he thought the project was slated for 2020 and was thrilled when construction began earlier this year. He knows that delays have been frustrating for drivers, but does offer the reminder that when completed, the turn lanes will keep drivers in the county safer.

"Anything we can do to make that highway safer will benefit everybody," he said.