SIOUX FALLS, SD -
New stores, new restaurants and a new theater are drawing more people and more traffic to eastern Sioux Falls. But until the new Highway 100 Loop is complete, an older East side thoroughfare is quickly becoming more congested.
Nearly 50 years ago, the I-229 loop was built on the eastern edge of Sioux Falls. Back then, the two-lane freeway was designed to carry up to 2,000 vehicles a day. Today, the 229 corridor carries anywhere from 35 to 40 thousand cars and trucks every day.
The Benson Road Exit in northern Sioux Falls is one of two new exits that were recently added to 229 to better handle all of that extra traffic, and now the 229 interchanges are raising a few concerns again. Exits along 229 are often clogged during the morning and afternoon rush hour, as more industrial, commercial and residential development happens on the city's east side attracts more traffic.
"It's not only an interstate issue, its a local road issue too. Those crossroads, if they're backing-up, they're causing a backup along the interstate so theres some coordination that goes on with the city," Craig Smith with the South Dakota Department of Transportation said.
Another turning lane was recently added to the Benson Road interchange to help keep traffic moving along instead backing up onto the freeway. The state's DOT is also looking at possible changes for the interchanges at 26th Street and Minnesota Avenue. Another option is to add another lane.
"If we did need to widen it in the future the widening would have to go in the middle, into the median and you would end up with some sort of barrier between traffic," Smith said.
But one thing that won't change anytime soon is the 65 mile an hour speed limit, which some say is the cause of many of the accidents along 229.
"I know 10 years ago it used to be nothing to get cars in their 80s and 90s," Lt. Alan Welsh of the South Dakota Highway Patrol said.
But when traffic numbers increase, speeds normally decrease, especially during rush hour.
"I think 65 is adequate, obviously it would be tough to change the speed limit during certain times of the day. Sometimes you make it too slow and that just creates more problems," Welsh said.
And in many cases, speed has nothing to do with crashes along this 12 mile corridor.
"Whenever there are conditions, whether it be a drunk driver or weather...or snowstorm related, there's crashes because of a lot of traffic," Welsh said.
More traffic maybe, but speed-related accidents remain steady.
"Looking at the crash reports there really hasn't been a big increase. Like in 1999, it's not real different from 2009 as far as crashes," Welsh said.
And Welsh thinks he knows why.
"Two reasons: one, I'm going to take some of the credit and say it's enforcement, but also the other reason is because it's primarily local drivers that are aware of the traffic patterns," Welsh said.
But even local drivers struggle with icy roads, which triggers many of the fender-benders along 229. And in a deadly head-on crash earlier this month, a suspected drunk driver drove the wrong way on 229 and ran into another car killing the driver.
Troopers hope to reduce the number of drunk driving accidents by conducting more compliance checks along I-229 in the future, and become more visible during the day, with the hope of reducing the risk on what used to be a lonely and quiet commute along I-229.
In early 2000 the DOT added auxiliary lanes near some of the 229 interchanges throughout Sioux Falls. The only project on the books right now is to resurface the interstate between Louise Avenue and I-29 in 2013.
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