STURGIS | Fort Meade Way, a bypass completed three years ago to link Interstate 90 with Highway 34 east of Sturgis, is undergoing repairs after a temporary closure to big rig traffic because of soggy road conditions.
The 5.6-mile unpaved road was closed to heavy truck traffic for about a week because of the combination of an abnormally snowy winter capped by last week’s heavy spring rains and an apparent shortfall of gravel laid down during construction three years ago.
The wet conditions left the roadway too soft for heavy vehicle traffic, prompting county road crews to install temporary signage prohibiting trucks from using the road.
Meade County Interim Highway Superintendent Scott Tegethoff said days of steady rainfall last week softened the already soggy roadway to the point where passing trucks were leaving deep ruts.
“It was a nightmare,” said Tegethoff, speaking during a break in Tuesday’s Meade County Commission meeting in Sturgis.
“They had it tracked up so bad with heavy loads, it was near impassable,” he said.
An electronic sign just off I-90, Exit 38 had warned of “Local Trucks Only”, with other temporary signage on either end of the 5.6-mile bypass banning trucks from using the route, until the signs were taken down Wednesday.
Tegethoff told commissioners on Tuesday that the center 2.5-mile section of the road had only been covered with four inches of gravel during construction, which was completed in 2016, with engineering plans calling for 14 inches of aggregate.
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The report of the gravel shortage bears investigation, said commissioner Rod Bradley, one of three new commissioners taking office in January.
“It’s an issue we just found out about. We’re digging into it,” Bradley said.
Tegethoff said a spring snowstorm during the second week in April caused near-zero visibility leaving drivers unable to see, driving off the road and becoming stuck. Ruts are still visible from trucks becoming mired in the snow and mud.
“At one time we had seven semis stuck on that road,” Tegethoff said. “It was just a mess.”
Keeping the road open to all traffic is dependent on the weather, with rain again forecast for this weekend.
The county will also be laying down more gravel as the subsurface continues to dry out. Putting down aggregate when the roads are too sodden, Tegethoff said, results in the gravel being pushed into the mud.
A more permanent fix, however, such as paving the route, isn’t likely.
“I’m not going to say never,” Tegethoff said, of paving the road. “But it’s not in the foreseeable future.”