Winter service plan OK’d for S.D. highways

Capitol News Bureau

A KELOLAND file photo of a SDDOT snow plow truck.

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The state Transportation Commission has given a green light to the plan for clearing South Dakota highways of snow and ice this winter.

The loop of interstates 29, 90 and 229 at Sioux Falls will be the one area to have 24-hour service from state Department of Transportation crews, according to operations director Craig Smith.

Standard hours for most routes are 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., he said. There will be extended night hours on I-90 in Minnehaha County and from Rapid City to the Wyoming border, as well as on I-29 between Brookings and North Sioux City.

All 66 of the department’s maintenance shops will again be involved. The department has 385 full-time snowplows, 23 trucks equipped with tow-plows to cover multiple lanes, 22 road graders with V-plows, and 76 high-volume snow blowers.

A public version of the plan is being prepared and will be ready in later November or December.

Road conditions will be posted at least three times daily Mondays through Fridays: before 7 a.m., between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and between 4 and 7 p.m. On Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, conditions will update twice daily, before 9 a.m. and between 4 and 7 p.m.

The department’s communication system for travelers includes a 511 telephone line and website, as well as apps, and social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Dynamic messaging signs will be used in some spots along roadways and the department has been installing kiosks at interstate rest areas.

Since the Legislature approved use of blue warning lights for emergency and DOT vehicles in 2020, the department has equipped an increasing number of trucks. Smith said 280 will have blue lights of various types this winter.

The department continues to expand use of on-board computers in trucks and plows as part of a maintenance-decision support system known as MDSS. It uses a combination of truck and plow sensors to measure road conditions such as air and surface temperatures, and data gathered from road-side environmental-sensing stations, to better calibrate amounts and types of de-icing chemicals to spread.

Another innovation is high-friction surface treatment in some areas. Smith said the epoxy that holds the aggregate has proven sturdy and the department plans those spots to last 10 to 15 years. “It’s been a great tool for us to improve the safety on our roads,” he said.

Last winter the department budgeted $22.5 million for winter maintenance and spent some $17.6 million. This winter the budget is targeted at $19.6 million.

One challenge Smith hasn’t solved is hiring additional drivers for the winter season. “We are struggling a little bit with the labor shortage,” he said. “If we scale back, it will be on the extended hours.”

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