PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota’s first road closure of the winter season came Thursday morning on I-90 in the Wall area. A few hours later, so did approval of the state Department of Transportation’s winter highway maintenance plan.
The South Dakota Transportation Commission gave its official green light. Among changes, DOT will start officially closing some routes that aren’t interstate highways when weather warrants. There’s also a plan in the works to let counties and tribal governments list their road closures too on DOT’s statewide 511 system. And DOT’s website now has a special page devoted to winter storm information for travelers.
This winter, DOT has budgeted $23,266,840. Last year, DOT budgeted $20,553,159 but wound up paying twice that amount. The winter that ran from December through early April cost DOT $40,984,193.72, including $493,094.63 for contract snow removal.
The nearly $41 million was the most expensive winter so far, according to DOT’s operations director, Craig Smith. “It does have a big impact on our state, as we saw last year,” he said.
DOT’s fleet of winter equipment includes 382 snowplows, 23 road graders with V-plows, 90 snow blowers, 23 tow plows and 59 spare snowplows. Nearly all of the plows are now equipped with computer systems that help adjust to current conditions and forecasts.
There also are 30 locations with high-friction aggregate surfaces that help motorists stay on the road. And a statewide plan for snow fences is being developed.
One of the difficulties last winter resulted from outside navigation apps showing alternative routes as open but weren’t. That led to more stranded motorists than in the past, including some who were in “life or death” situations, according to Smith.
He and state Transportation Secretary Joel Jundt said South Dakota and other states are working with the companies that provide those apps in the hope of avoiding repeats this winter. DOT also is putting together a plan that would let counties and tribal government voluntarily post their local road conditions on the 511 site.
“We’re working through this process right now,” Smith said. “It likely won’t be ready before the end of the year.”
The commission’s chair, Jafar Karim, could have benefited from more knowledge about road conditions when he left for Pierre from Rapid City on Thursday morning. He hit the season’s first black ice and saw I-90 westbound traffic stopped in the Wall area. He arrived at the meeting about 15 minutes late.
“Thanks for everyone’s patience. I did run into some weather,” Karim explained.
Smith said the winter plan’s approval came just in time — “Or maybe a day or two late.”
Karim later thanked Smith and DOT for their efforts.
Replied Smith, “Thanks definitely go to the guys out there in the trucks. Those are tough jobs.”