Sturgis rally-goers like to arrive on Monday, according to traffic counts

KELOLAND.com Original
KELO Sturgis sign

STURGIS, S.D. (KELO) — The average daily traffic count for the 2019 Sturgis Motorcyle Rally was 209,063 at roughly 22 monitored sites, according to the South Dakota Department of Transportation.

The total traffic count at nine monitored entry points into the 10 day rally was 499,654, according to the DOT. Most (61,126) entered on Monday, Aug. 5, the fourth day of the 2019 rally.

The arrival of 61,126 vehicles, mostly motorcycles, on Aug. 5 2019, is like every resident of Sturgis, (6,922 2019 estimated population), entering the city about nine times.

This year’s rally will be from Friday, Aug. 7 through Sunday, Aug. 16.

The DOT has been monitoring rally related traffic on 22 sites for several years. The agency had more sites up until 2012 when sites at Interstate 90 exits 30 and 32 westbound and eastbound were eliminated. The agency kept monitors at ramp sites.

Nine monitored sites are entries into the Sturgis Rally. Those nine sites are: Site 3: I-90 Exit 32 WB offramp, Site 6: I-90 Exit 32 EB offramp, Site 6: I-90 Exit 32 EB offramp, Site 9: I-90 Exit 30 EB offramp, Site 11: I-90 Exit 30 WB offramp, Site 13: US 14A EB SW of Exit 30, Site 17: SD 34 WB east of Buffalo Chip Campground, Site 22: SD 79 SB north of Bear Butte, Site 23: Vanocker Canyon Rd NB south of Exit 32, Site 29N: Ft Meade Way.

The traffic monitor locations are located where rallygoers would enter Sturgis or where rally goers would tend to travel in the area, said Jon Suomala, the DOT regional traffic engineer in Rapid City.

A traveler that uses the westbound exit 32 on I-90 is likely headed to Sturgis, Suomala said. Travelers to other areas of the Black Hills would use different exits, he said.

More rally goers used entry site 3, the I-90 westbound exit 32 off ramp than site 6, the I-90 eastbound exit 32 off ramp in 2019. The high count for 2019 on site 3 was 12,617 on Saturday, Aug. 3, compared to the high count on site 6 at 4,638 on Tuesday, Aug. 6. Counts were never above the thousands on site 6 while the count was at least 100,000 for site 3.

Traffic monitors at the other 13 sites show that motorcycles are driving in the immediate Sturgis area.

The rally was a seven day event from 1975 until 2016 when it changed to 10 days.

But the DOT has been monitoring traffic for 10 days since 2011. It started monitoring rally traffic in 1990.

The traffic count at nine entries was 580,601 in 2011 and the average count from 2011 to 2018 was 553,911 for the 10 day event.

From 2011 through 2019, Mondays were the highest traffic count days except for 2018, when Saturday had the highest count.

The DOT will install temporary traffic signals at 11 sites near Sturgis and lower speed limits at several sites to handle the dramatic increase in traffic during the 10-day rally. Those will start on Thursday, Aug. 6.

Temporary traffic signals will be added at sites such as the east and westbound ramps at exit 32 on I-90 and the eastbound ramp at exit 55 on I-90.

Signals will also be added at junctions of roads and highways like South Dakota Highway 34 and Fort Meade Way and South Dakota Highway 44 and U.S. Highway 385.

Here’s the locations for the temporary signals: Junction of S.D. 34/79 and Ft. Meade main entrance, junction of S.D. 34/79 and Ft. Meade main entrance, junction of S.D. 34 and S.D. 79 east of Sturgis, junction of S.D. 34 and Ft. Meade Way, junction S.D. 44 and U.S. 385, junction U.S. 16 and U.S. 385, S.D. 34/79 & 11th Street, I-90 Exit 32 WB ramp, I-90 Exit 55 EB ramp, I-90 Exit 32 EB ramp, S.D. 34/79 & Glencoe Drive and S.D. 34/79 & Nellie Avenue.

For at least 20 years, the rally attendance has made it the largest city in South Dakota for that 10 day period.

Handling thousands of motorcyclists over what was first a week long event was a challenge, according to a study by Horizon Signal.

Most roads in the Sturgis area are two-lanes and the city doesn’t have many traffic signals.

Stop signs were added at several sites but that “led to horrible backups and gridlocks,” the Horizon Signal case study said.

The state added flaggers the next year but traffic required flaggers for 24 hours a day which was expensive and potentially dangerous, the case study said.

Permanent signals were too expensive for a week or 10-day event so the state decided to use temporary traffic signals.

sturgis-rally-sturgis-motorcycle-rally_904551530621
Keloland file photo of a Sturgis Rally.

The state has some permanent poles for temporary signals at some locations, Suomala said. It also rents some traffic signals from a company, he said.

The total cost is about $60,000 to $70,000 each year for the temporary signals, he said.

The cost may be a small investment compared to the sales tax benefit received by the state. According to city of Sturgis, state and Sturgis Motorcycle Rally organization figures, the state received about $452,595,08 in sales collected by temporary vendors in the city of Sturgis. The amount is based on reports from the fourth week in September. An Aug. 27, 2019 post on the Department of Revenue website said the state collected $1,269,549 in tax from the event as of that date.

Most of the temporary signals and slower speed limits were added for 2015, the 75th year of the rally.

A total record number of 747,032 vehicles entered the rally at nine sites in 2015, according to the DOT.

Yet, rally goers might leave the Sturgis area during the 10 days to visit other sites in the Black Hills areas.

The National Park Service site for Devil’s Tower has posted traveler advice related to Sturgis on its website. There is a planned motorcycle trip to Devil’s Tower on Wednesday, Aug. 12.

“Hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists gather in the Black Hills region, and often visit particular sites on certain days. The “Ride to Devils Tower” typically occurs on the Wednesday of that week. Visitors can expect extremely long lines and waits to enter the park,” the NPS site said.

“Generally, the increased traffic and visitation from Rally Week are unavoidable. However, visiting the park before 8 a.m. or after 5 p.m. will offer you a much less congested experience,” the NPS site said.

The Black Hills and sites such as Mount Rushmore and nearby Devil’s Tower in Wyoming continue to attract tourists during the rally.

August is the month of the rally but it’s also part of the peak tourism season in the Black Hills area.

Mount Rushmore had 1,963,54 visitors in 2019, according to the NPS. The national site drew 414,171 visitors in August of 2019, the second busiest month of the year, according to the NPS.

The NPS said 67,560 of the August visitors entered from State Highway 244 West. Mount Rushmore is about an hour from Sturgis.

Badlands National Park drew 970,998 visitors in 2019 and 207,743 in August. The national park is just off I-90. The park is about an hour and 20 minutes to an hour and 44 minutes from Sturgis, depending on the route.

Site 9: I-90 Exit 30 EB offramp

Site 11: I-90 Exit 30 WB offramp

Site 13: US 14A EB SW of Exit 30

Site 17: SD 34 WB east of Buffalo Chip Campground

Site 22: SD 79 SB north of Bear Butte

Site 23: Vanocker Canyon Rd NB south of Exit 32Site 29N: Ft Meade Way

The rally had been seven days until it was officially changed to 10 days in 2017. This year’s rally is Aug. 7 -16.

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