There’s little doubt the winter of 2016-17 has been a harsh one, with a corresponding jump in the amount of damage to highway signs and guardrails when motorists lost control of their cars on icy or snowy roadways.
“I haven’t looked at the data, but just off the cuff, I believe we’ve had more storm events in the first part of the winter than we’ve had in the last two winters,” said Todd Seaman, region engineer with the South Dakota Department of Transportation.
“The last two winters haven been fairly mild for us, so we haven’t had nearly as many folks leaving the roads as we’ve had this year.”
When vehicles do slide off the roads, state crews need to replace flattened signposts and mangled guardrails as quickly as possible.
Seaman said repair costs are included the highway department’s operating budget.
When crews aren’t out plowing roads, they stay busy repairing damage. The DOT also works with independent contractors to make major repairs.
Drivers whose vehicles cause damage to guardrails and signs may be billed for the cost of repairs, Seaman said.
“If they damage the infrastructure, we’ll bill them for it,” said Seaman. “We work with insurance companies to recoup those costs.”
Allan Bonnema, Lawrence County highway superintendent, said this winter has been average for damage from snow and ice in the higher elevations of the Black Hills.
At lower altitudes, it’s been a different story, he said.
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“Down below, the wind has blown a lot, and the snow has done a lot of drifting and caused a lot of issues,” Bonnema said.
Even snow being thrown by plows can damage signposts, he said.
Pennington County assistant highway superintendent Mark Schock said maintenance crews will also spend hours trimming trees and brush that might be obscuring signs or adding aggregate to about 500 miles of gravel roads in the county.
“The fact is that most of our significant snows this year were followed by a long frigid spell, which made it hard to get rid of that snowpack, so we had longer periods of icy roads with each event,” Schock said.
Bonnema said because of an extended autumn of warm weather, snow removal budgets haven’t been strained — yet.
“It really didn’t start snowing until the first part of December. We’re not in dire straits ... but there still could be a lot of winter left,” he said.
Other construction projects underway or starting soon include a $28.8 million reconstruction of Interstate 90 between Tilford and Piedmont, between Exits 40 and 44.
The project will include grading, box culvert extensions, new bridges, lighting, signage, pavement markings and new concrete surface.
Work started with box culvert extensions on Jan. 23. On March 6, two-way traffic will start in the eastbound lanes as reconstruction of the westbound lanes begins and continues through the 2017 construction season. Reconstruction of the eastbound lanes will start in 2018.
Also scheduled to begin this month is demolition of buildings and picnic shelters at the now-closed Tilford rest areas. The $112,000 project is slated to be completed in May. Parking areas will be maintained after the building demolition is finished. The rest areas closed at the end of October last year.