MOUNT RUSHMORE (KELO) — A busy cramped two-lane highway is about to get busier on July 3.
Although it’s been since 2009 when fireworks were last discharged at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota Highway 16A has been a popular viewing spot in past years, said Todd Seaman, an engineer with the South Dakota Department of Transportation in the Rapid City region.
“I remember from past years that things filled up as early as 9 or 10 a.m.,” Seaman said of vehicles parked along Highway 16A to watch fireworks.
The highway is part of the main route to Mount Rushmore and other tourism spots in the Black Hills area. It will be open to the general public on July 3, Seaman said.
The Mount Rushmore Memorial will be closed to general public because the fireworks event and expected visit by President Donald Trump is a ticketed event.
According to the tourism department, fireworks are expected to start between 9:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. MST on July 3.
Those who park along Highway 16A for fireworks should be prepared, Seaman said.
“That’s a long day…,” Seaman said.
Seaman said people should bring water and other supplies.
Based on the forecast, “it’s going to be hot,” Seaman said.
The fireworks traffic is just part of the traffic that will use Highway 16A on July 3. A crowd of about 7,500 ticket holders will also be using part of Highway 16A to get to the event at Mount Rushmore. The park is closed to the general public for fireworks and an expected visit by President Donald Trump.
Mount Rushmore is on South Dakota Highway 244 which can be accessed from Highway 16A or South Dakota Highway 385.
Ticket holders can travel into the event with six or less people in the vehicle or through a shuttle service, according to the South Dakota Department of Tourism.
A checkpoint will set up on Highway 16A on July 3, Seaman said.
The Highway 385 entrance, or the Hill City route to Highway 244 and Mount Rushmore, will be open only to authorized vehicles on July 3. The general public and ticket holders cannot reach Highway 244 via Highway 385, Seaman said.
“We expect congestion and heavy traffic,” Seaman said of July 3. “My best advice is to be patient.”
Event ticket holders, general tourists and those who want to watch fireworks from along the highway will be on a narrow two-lane highway on July 3.
“There’s not much we can do for additional space,” Seaman said.
“The vast majority of the highway does not have a shoulder,” Seaman said.
Law enforcement will do its best to makes sure traffic flows on Highway 16A on July 3 but Seaman stressed the fireworks will cause traffic congestion.
Although a coronavirus pandemic is still in the state and U.S. traffic counts show that Highway 16A has gotten busier in June, said Jeff Brosz, a HPMS/Traffic Studies Specialist with the South Dakota Department of Transportation.
The S.D. DOT has a traffic counter on South Dakota Highway 16A in Keystone.
“That’s a really good indicator of how many people are going to Mount Rushmore,” Brosz said.
The most recent traffic counts available on June 29 are from June 20 and 21 and include traffic from both directions, he said.
The traffic count on Saturday, June 20, was 8,336. “That’s the highest so far for the month,” Brosz said.
The count on June 21 was 7,357.
“That was a really good weekend for traffic,” Brosz said of the numbers.
From June 9 through June 21, 74,939 vehicles passed through the counter, according to S.D. DOT figures. The peak count was 769 at 4 p.m on June 20. The adjusted daily average is 6,243.
Signs along Interstate 90 direct travelers to use South Dakota Highway 16 to get to Mount Rushmore. Highway 16 splits into Highway 16A.
The June S.D. DOT shows that traffic counts ramped up into triple digits at 8 a.m. on June days and increased even more at 11 a.m. Traffic counts were also high at 3 p.m., the time when Mount Rushmore would open to July 3 ticket holders.
Brosz said the automated traffic recorder (ATR) has been out of commission for the past several years so numbers from 2019 are not available.
Traffic counts from the National Park Service for traffic coming into the memorial from South Dakota Highway 244 East show the highest count in 2019 was 134,715 in July followed by 120,964 in August. The count in June was 105,448.
The NPS traffic counts from State Highway 244 West were 77,859 for July 2019, 67,560 for August and 62,344 for June. That section will be closed to ticket holder traffic and the general public on July 3.