Hwy. 16 repairs bring inconvenience

By Jason Ferguson

Traffic is stopped coming out of Hill City by Nelson’s Oil and Gas. There is a stoplight there to control traffic while roadwork is done.

Rich Zacher feels your frustration. He really does.

Zacher, Custer area engineer for the South Dakota Department of Transporation, knows it’s a frustrating drive to take Hwy. 16 to Hill City or Rapid City due to the two construction projects happening at the same time. If he could snap his fingers and have it over with, he would.

“I wish I could fix it, but that’s the nature of road construction,” he said. “It has to be done. It’s an inconvenience. Anyone who tells you it isn’t, they’re lying.”

The first project that started in mid-May is a continuation of work done last year that continues to see crews from Complete Concrete of Rapid City repairing pavement joints northeast of Hill City between Hill City and Three Forks. Zacher said the project spilled over into this year because some of the work believed to be small repairs ended up being full-depth repairs of concrete on the road.

Pavement joints will sometimes crack, anywhere from an inch to a foot down to the joint and, in many cases, those cracks are known as a spall, a small crack or chip that can be chipped out, covered with concrete and have vehicles travel on it that same day. However, some cracks go all the way through the pavement, requiring the full-depth repair, which is what motorists encounter when they see large blocks of the roadway removed and replaced.

The full-depth work continued into last fall, while the spall repair ceased because it cannot be done properly in colder weather. This spring when crews returned to do the spall repair, it was discovered more of the repair was going to have to be full depth. Once the repairs are complete, the joints will be sealed.

Zacher said there hasn’t been much work done on that section of the highway since it was laid in the mid-1980s.

“The bad thing about concrete on a two-lane road is when you go back and do maintenance, it’s awful,” he said. “The good thing is you don’t have to do it very often.”

Meanwhile, on June 11, DOT also began milling and resurfacing on Hwy. 16 four miles south of Hill City to Hill City and from Hill City to Three Forks. The milling will not tear up the joint work being done on the other project, Zacher said.

Traffic is reduced to one lane and guided through the project via flaggers and a pilot car. A delay of up to 15 minutes can be expected while traveling through the work area during daytime hours.

The inch and one-eighths thick asphalt overlays laid down are good for around 10 years, Zacher said, depending on traffic, and the section being replaced was put down 10 years ago. If the weather cooperates, he said, the paving could be done by the end of this week, leaving only pavement marking left. Both projects could be completed by the end of next week, he said, which would undoubtedly delight motorists traveling through the area. There is no construction on Hwy. 16 scheduled for the forseeable future once these projects are complete.

Zacher said locals have likely already found alternate routes to avoid the construction and encouraged those who have not to do so. Going through Keystone on Hwy. 244 off Hwy. 16 out to the Keystone Wye is an option, as is driving through Custer State Park to Hwy. 79 and then driving north into Rapid City. Those routes, he said, are more predictable than going through the flagged and traffic signaled work zones.

“You can plan on 10 minutes. You can’t plan on how long the (construction delay) will be, he said. “Sometimes it’s nothing, sometimes it’s 25 minutes between the two of them.”

There is also road work being done in Custer State Park, as both the Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road are undergoing a chip seal project. In addition, core sampling was done on Wildlife Loop Road to see what type of work would be required to redo the road.